What is Biofeedback Therapy (BT)?

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Biofeedback Therapy (BT) is a non-pharmaceutical technique that helps people control their normally involuntary body functions. For example, it can help someone slow their heart rate or relax their muscles.

The therapy uses biofeedback devices to read and interpret information from the body. A person can adjust aspects of themselves based on this information and ultimately control their body.

biofeedback therapy

BT helps with the management of many different conditions, including:

  • Urinary incontinence
  • High blood pressure
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • IBS
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension headaches
  • Chronic pain 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypertension
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Raynaud's syndrome

It is also effective for treating addiction and substance use disorders, especially during withdrawal. BT treats common symptoms of drug withdrawal, including anxiety, depression, chronic muscle pain, and restlessness.

Doctors are not sure exactly how Biofeedback Therapy works, but according to The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), it is most effective for treating conditions related to stress. When stress levels rise, a person’s internal processes become irregular. BT helps control this and provides a tool for alleviating symptoms and the stress response.

Biofeedback therapy helps people change unhealthy habits by interpreting brain activity and helping people familiarize themselves with their body’s responses. The practice helps improve a patient's mindfulness and wellness.

Types of Biofeeback Therapy

There are three types of Biofeedback Therapy, including:

  • Thermal biofeedback (a skin temperature measurement)
  • Electromyography (a muscle tension measurement)
  • Neurofeedback (evaluates electrical brain activity)

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What Conditions Does Biofeedback Therapy Treat?

Biofeedback Therapy is used to help with substance use disorders. It allows a person struggling with addiction and their therapist to recognize the body's involuntary functions that trigger substance use. BT tracks how the body reacts, tracking alcohol or drug withdrawal symptoms that cause stress and heightened involuntary responses.

Most people undergoing biofeedback training sessions see improvement in fewer than a dozen sessions. These sessions last about an hour.

Biofeedback Therapy is an effective tool for treating addiction because it enhances other therapies and allows people to feel more in control of their health and their overall situation.

Are There Any Risks of Biofeedback Therapy?

Most medical experts believe that any risk associated with Biofeedback Therapy is low. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is generally safe and there are no reports of negative side effects. However, this doesn’t mean the treatment is for everyone. 

The effectiveness of treatment like Biotherapy Feedback is determined by how comfortable someone is using it.

How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?

Biofeedback Therapy tracks the body’s involuntary functions. These include:

  • Respiration rate
  • Heart rate
  • Blood flow and pressure
  • Skin temperature
  • Muscle contractions
  • Sweating

BT machines monitor and provide information about these functions. This allows the monitored person, as well as his or her therapist, to interpret the information about how the body responds provided by the machines. This information helps with planning an approach to withdrawal and recovery.

During Biofeedback Therapy, information about the person is recorded and transmitted to a monitoring box during exposure to different visual and audio stimuli. This allows a therapist and/or the observed person to identify mental activities and relaxation techniques to regulate bodily functions that normally go unnoticed and uncontrolled.

During the sessions, the person practices control and eventually learns to control his or her reactions without monitoring.

How Many Sessions Do You Need?

Biofeedback therapy sessions usually last between 30 minutes and one hour. For some medical conditions, people experience relief in eight to ten sessions. For other conditions, like high blood pressure, patients may require 20 sessions to see improvements.

Generally, the length and number of sessions you require depends on your condition and how quickly you learn to control your physical responses.

Alongside biofeedback therapy sessions will be mental and relaxation activities that the patient will need to complete at home for five to ten minutes a day.

How Do You Prepare for Biofeedback Therapy?

You do not need to do any special preparation for biofeedback therapy. To find a suitable biofeedback therapist, speak with your doctor or another healthcare professional. They should recommend someone who has experience treating your condition.

Many biofeedback therapists and practitioners are licensed in another healthcare sector, such as psychology, nursing, or physical therapy. State laws regulating biofeedback therapists vary. Some biofeedback practitioners decide to become certified to display their additional training and experience in their practice.

Ask a biofeedback therapist you are considering questions before treatment, like:

  • Are you licensed, certified, or registered?
  • What is your experience level?
  • Do you have experience treating biofeedback for my condition?
  • How many biofeedback sessions do you think I will need?
  • How much does biofeedback therapy cost, and does health insurance cover it?
  • Do you have a list of references?

What Can You Expect From Biofeedback Therapy?

During a biofeedback session, a therapist fits electrical sensors to various parts of your body. These electrodes may be used to monitor your brain waves, muscle tension, breathing, heart rate, and skin temperature.

This information relays back to you via cues, such as adjustments on a monitor, a beeping noise, or a flashing light. The feedback teaches you to shift or control your body’s reactions by changing your thoughts, behavior, or emotions. This can help the condition that you sought treatment for.

The goal of biofeedback is to learn to use these methods at home without professional help to improve your mindfulness and well-being.

If biofeedback works efficiently for you, it may help you control symptoms of your condition or reduce the amount of medicine you take. With enough practice, you can try the biofeedback techniques you learn alone. However, do not stop the medical treatment for your condition without discussing it with your care team.

Biofeedback Therapy Methods, Techniques & Exercises

There are several different factors that can be tracked by biofeedback. These include:

  • Measuring brain waves
  • Monitoring respiration rate and breathing patterns
  • Detecting heart rate variations
  • Evaluating muscle contractions
  • Measuring the activity of sweat glands
  • Monitoring temperature increases and decreases

Biofeedback Therapy is available in physical therapy clinics, medical centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other locations. Devices can also be worn and used at home. However, BT is usually administered by a medical professional with specialized equipment.

The at-home devices are supplemental and alert the wearer to changes in their body so they can adjust to these changes accordingly. Medical professionals typically monitor Biofeedback Therapy devices used for treating substance use disorders. 

Biofeedback Therapy Treatment Combinations

Biofeedback Therapy is most often used in combination with other drug and alcohol treatment options. It is also a replacement for more invasive treatment or treatment options that triggered negative side effects.

BT gives people with substance abuse disorders and mental health conditions an edge in beating their addiction. It provides them with additional information for managing their disorder and understanding how their addiction affects their minds and bodies.

Knowing how addiction affects the body and finding ways to manage those effects helps with recovery. Biofeedback is a management tool. It also helps people with a drug or alcohol addiction manage co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD, ADHD, and more.

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Resources +

“Biofeedback Therapy: How It Works and Uses.” Www.Medicalnewstoday.Com, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265802.

“Biofeedback: Types, Purpose, and Risks.” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/biofeedback.

“Biofeedback - Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.Org, 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/about/pac-20384664.

Sokhadze, Tato M., et al. “EEG Biofeedback as a Treatment for Substance Use Disorders: Review, Rating of Efficacy, and Recommendations for Further Research.” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, vol. 33, no. 1, 24 Jan. 2008, pp. 1–28, 10.1007/s10484-007-9047-5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2259255/

Goldenberg, Joshua Z et al. “Biofeedback for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews vol. 2017,1 CD012530. 26 Jan. 2017, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012530, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464925/ 

Glombiewski, Julia Anna et al. “Efficacy of EMG- and EEG-Biofeedback in Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis and a Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2013 (2013): 962741. doi:10.1155/2013/962741, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3776543/

Rao, Satish S C. “Biofeedback therapy for constipation in adults.” Best practice & research. Clinical gastroenterology vol. 25,1 (2011): 159-66. doi:10.1016/j.bpg.2011.01.004, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3073852/

Nagai, Yoko et al. “Epileptic Seizures are Reduced by Autonomic Biofeedback Therapy Through Enhancement of Fronto-limbic Connectivity: A Controlled Trial and Neuroimaging Study.” EBioMedicine vol. 27 (2018): 112-122. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.12.012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5828368/

Chiarioni, Giuseppe et al. “Bio-feedback treatment of fecal incontinence: where are we, and where are we going?.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 11,31 (2005): 4771-5. doi:10.3748/wjg.v11.i31.4771, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398720/

Greenhalgh J, Dickson R, Dundar Y. The effects of biofeedback for the treatment of essential hypertension: a systematic review. 2009. In: NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme: Executive Summaries. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2003-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56826/

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