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The Buzz around Biofeedback
Most people are aware of the differences between voluntary and involuntary muscles. Voluntary muscles, such as skeletal muscles, are those that you can move of your own free will. For example, you can move your head, wave your hand, walk on your feet, and roll your eyes.
On the other hand, involuntary muscles like cardiac muscles function independently. It would be difficult to believe if someone said your body's involuntary responses could be controlled to improve your mental and physical health. Yes, it is unbelievable, but it is true that you can manage your involuntary muscles with biofeedback. What is biofeedback? How to practise it? What are its benefits? Let's dig in to know all the answers.
Table of Contents
What is Biofeedback?
It is a non-drug therapy used to treat chronic health issues by gaining control over involuntary functions like blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, etc. Biofeedback is based on the idea that when you can control your body's mechanisms, you will be able to manage your actions and reactions. Studies have proved that biofeedback effectively fights stress and treats learning and eating disorders. Moreover, it is also helpful to maintain metabolic health in people with issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The best thing about this therapy is that there is no risk of side effects as it is a noninvasive therapy.
How does it Work?
A qualified therapist conducts biofeedback sessions. The therapist attaches electrodes to your skin. The electrodes act as sensors to measure your crucial body functions. The sensors send signals displayed on a monitor as a flash of light, sound or image. They represent the changes in heartbeat, blood pressure, sweating, body temperature and muscle twitching.
It has been proved that there is a subtle change in all these activities when you are under stress. For example, your heartbeat quickens, you sweat a lot, your blood pressure increases, and your muscles tighten. You can see these changes instantly displayed on the monitor. When you are conscious of how your body reacts to stimuli and stressors, you can control them through techniques like deep breathing, imagery, mindful meditation, etc.
When you try to reverse the changes, for example lowering your heart rate, you will be able to get instant feedback on the monitor. Initially, you have to learn the techniques in the therapist's office. Once you have mastered the techniques, you can do it independently at your home. Each session may take about an hour. The number of sessions varies depending upon the severity and nature of your condition.
What are some common types of Biofeedback?
1. Thermal Feedback
It is used to measure body temperature. This is helpful to combat stress as it has been found that body temperature falls when you are stressed.
Several electrodes are attached to various parts of your body to detect the changes in muscle tension. EMG is used to treat headaches, neck pain, incontinence, anxiety disorders, etc.
This therapy refers to neurofeedback and measures brain waves. It helps you to calm down and focus better. It is effective in treating epilepsy, ADHD and seizures.
4. Heart Rate Variability
As the name suggests, it measures heart rate. It effectively treats asthma, depression, COPD, anxiety and irregular heartbeat.
5. Electrodermal Activity
Used to measure sweating, EDA is used to reduce pain.
What are some conditions where Biofeedback is used?
1. Treating Chronic Pain
This is one of the main uses of biofeedback. When people suffering from pain can identify the tight muscles and learn to relax them, it gives them pain relief.
2. Managing Metabolic Syndrome
Good metabolic health is necessary to regulate glucose levels and avoid increased risks of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Biofeedback therapy helps people with diabetes control their glucose and manage this metabolic condition.
3. Treating Headaches
Stress and muscle tensions are the primary causes of headaches. As biofeedback therapy reduces stress and relaxes muscle tension, it effectively treats headaches.
4. Helping people with ADHD
A few studies suggest that EEG helps people with ADHD. However, more research is needed to establish this conclusively.
5. Controlling Urinary Incontinence
Weak pelvic muscles are one of the main reasons for urinary incontinence in women. Biofeedback helps them by strengthening pelvic muscles.
6. Managing Stress and Anxiety
People with stress and anxiety will know how their bodies respond to stress when attending biofeedback sessions. When the therapist teaches them how to manage them, they will be able to get rid of stress and anxiety.
7. Alleviating Symptoms of Raynaud's disease
Raynaud's' disease is caused due to inadequate blood supply. Problems in blood supply cause numbness in a few body parts. Studies prove that 90% of people with Raynaud's had improved blood supply after biofeedback therapy.
8. Enhancing Performance Sports
The mental fitness of sportspersons is as important as their physical fitness. Biofeedback helps them to reduce stress and anxiety and gain control over their mental state. One of the best examples is Abhinav Bindra, who won a gold medal in Olympics. His psychologist used biofeedback therapy to improve his mental fitness.
What are the Benefits of Biofeedback?
1. It is a noninvasive therapy. There is no risk of side effects caused by medications.
2. Biofeedback allows you to control your emotions. When emotions are under control, it benefits physical and mental health and allows you to handle all situations and all types of people with confidence.
3. It can be used with other treatments. Biofeedback will not affect the effectiveness of other treatment procedures and medicines. In fact, it complements and augments other treatments.
What are the Concerns with Biofeedback?
1. May not suitable for certain medical conditions like irregular heart rhythm and Skin issues.
2. It is not a standalone treatment option and is more useful to complement other therapies.
3. May not be comfortable for some people.
4. The readings may not always be accurate.
5. May not always address underlying medical conditions.
Biofeedback has been showing promising results. It trains your mind to control involuntary actions like heart rate to improve physical and mental health. Its effectiveness in regulating glucose levels and improving metabolic health has been proven. Make sure you start the therapy with a registered practitioner. You can practice on your own after completing the sessions with the therapist. However, it is best not to stop your medicines without consulting your physician.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.