The mind-body connection is a hallmark of the holistic philosophy of healing. With biofeedback, people can be trained to manage that connection.
What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a way that people can gain more awareness of the physical body systems. Scientific instruments are used to help provide information on the body, such as heart rate, pain perception, muscle activity, and brainwaves. By monitoring these systems, people can be trained to help control them. While electronic devices aren’t completely necessary for biofeedback training to occur, precise instruments can be extremely helpful in providing “feedback” information to the user. Some of the instruments used include electromyograph (EMG) to detect muscle action, electrodermograph (EDG) to measure skin reaction, electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure brain activity, photoplethysmograph (PPG) to measure blood flow, electrocardiograph (ECG) to measure electrical activity in the heart, pneumograph to gauge respiration rate, capnometer to measure expired carbon dioxide (CO2), rheoencephalograph (REG) to measure brain blood flow, and hemoencephalograph (HEG) to measure oxygenation of the blood in the brain.1 Biofeedback is actually considered a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as it allows the “power to use your thoughts to control your body”, thereby strengthening the mind-body connection.2 The appeal of biofeedback in treating patients is that it does not rely on medications, which can carry side-effects. It is safe and non-invasive, and it lets people “take charge of their health”.3
Uses for Biofeedback
There are many uses for biofeedback, including assisting with physiological changes, boosting health, and increasing performance. The body and mind are so connected that changes in the physical can also affect (in a two-way street) behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Eventually, the training equipment would no longer be needed, but biofeedback can also be taught without equipment. Biofeedback can help with migraines, headaches, post-traumatic stress disorder, incontinence, musculoskeletal relaxation, pain management, stroke recovery, cardiovascular health, and a variety of other systemic issues in the body. Biofeedback can even be useful in treating diseases such as alcoholism, diabetes, arthritis, insomnia, and anxiety, to name a few. One of the earlier uses of biofeedback, in fact, was for treating incontinence in women and children. The “bedwetting alarm” sounds when children urinate during sleep. This teaches children to wake up and void their full bladder, before bedwetting happens. Kegel had a perineometer that trained women how to do particular exercises to contract the pelvic floor so that they could re-strengthen the vagina after pregnancy and childbirth. Today, Kegel exercises can be used by all people to help with adult urinary incontinence.4 Biofeedback is also a very useful relaxation technique.5 Some of the other ways that biofeedback is being utilized in modern medicine is for the treatment of Raynaud’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, constipation, and for the treatment of chemotherapy side effects.6