When you shake hands with someone, you’re performing a voluntary bodily function. You’ve consciously decided on a movement and willfully moved your muscles.
Many bodily functions are not consciously performed but are instead controlled by your autonomic nervous system. Biofeedback is a form of therapy that helps you acknowledge and gain more control over involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure, which usually happen automatically.
What is Biofeedback Used For?
People use biofeedback to control:
- Stress responses
- Blood flow issues such as migraines, headaches or high blood pressure
- Sleep disorders
- Chronic pain
- ADHD symptoms
How Does a Biofeedback Session Work?
The biofeedback session begins with the attachment of electrodes to various parts of your body. It’s safe and painless, so there’s no need to worry or feel apprehensive. The electrodes are simply there to act as sensors that give information to the biofeedback machine on the other end of the electrodes.
Once all the sensors are attached, the biofeedback device monitors your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. The therapist will then guide you through a series of physical and mental exercises designed to help you learn about and control these bodily functions.
The results of your efforts are displayed on a monitor in front of you. The monitor immediately gives you feedback when you’ve reached the desired change in a particular body function. Feedback may be given via audio or visual cues.
For example, your goal during the session may be to reduce migraine headaches. As the biofeedback therapist guides you through physical and mental exercises to regulate your skin temperature, which is an indicator of blood flow, the biofeedback machine measures how well you’re doing in reaching your goals.
What Does a Biofeedback Machine Measure?
- Skin Temperature: Your skin temperature lowers as blood moves toward muscles and internal organs. Learning to control skin temperature helps directs the blood flow back to extremities.
- Electromyogram: An EMG tracks muscular tension by reading sensors positioned on the muscles.
- Galvanic Skin Response: A GSR measures a process associated with sweat gland activity.
- Electroencephalogram: An EEG measures brain wave activity.
- Heart Rate Variability: An HRV measures subtle changes in heart rate.
Does Biofeedback Work?
A research study showed that controlling headaches using biofeedback had long-term effectiveness.2 Sixty-three migraine patients and 10 tension headache patients underwent biofeedback training to control their skin temperatures while learning relaxation techniques. With this method, the researchers were able to show a 63 percent improvement in migraine sufferers and a 33 percent improvement in tension headaches. These biofeedback therapy benefits were also reported to be long-lasting.
How Many Biofeedback Therapy Sessions Are Needed?
More than one biofeedback session is needed to master the techniques for controlling your autonomic nervous system responses. Effective biofeedback training usually takes from 15 to 35 sessions.3 With practice, many people are able to learn to regulate their heart rate or skin temperature without the aid of the feedback machine.
Additional Biofeedback Therapy Benefits
Biofeedback is a holistic mind-body therapy that provides natural relief.4 By using biofeedback instead of drugs, you’re eliminating the potential side effects of medications. Also, once you’ve mastered the technique, biofeedback therapy benefits will accumulate and you can practice it anywhere at any time to improve your health and performance.