A practitioner applies electrodes to a woman's back.
A practitioner applies electrodes to a woman's back.
A practitioner applies electrodes to a woman's back.


What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that uses various forms of monitoring devices to create conscious control over physical processes that are normally under automatic control of the body. The processes that can be affected in this manner can include:

  • Blood pressure

  • Heart rate

  • Heart rate variability

  • Body temperature

  • Breath control

  • Muscle tension

  • Sweating

  • Feelings related to stress, anxiety, and pain

  • Some symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The idea of controlling body functions with the mind is not new. Many Eastern philosophies, such as yoga, are based on the belief that meditation and visualization can lead to control over automatic physical processes. 

In its modern applications, numerous types of biofeedback instruments are available that display the effectiveness of the therapy as it is being done and can be used to monitor the progress of the activity.

Biofeedback is most often used with instruments that measure:

  • Blood pressure

  • Brain waves

  • Breathing rate

  • Heart rate and heart rate variability

  • Muscle tension

  • Skin conductivity of electricity

  • Skin temperature

Hooked up with electrodes to electronic equipment, a person's breathing rate, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure, and heartbeat are measured. The results are displayed on a computer screen. Specific devices are used to measure each body change, including:

  • Electromyogram (EMG). This is used to measure muscle tension.

  • Electrodermal activity (EDA). This is used to measure changes in perspiration rate.

  • Finger pulse measurements. These measure blood pressure and heartbeat.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG). This is used to measure electrical activity in the brain.

In addition, both the rhythm and volume of breathing are measured.

Once a person's body signals are recorded with the electronic devices, a biofeedback technician or computer feedback may recommend both physical and mental exercises to gain control. Biofeedback technicians are trained and nationally certified.

Biofeedback is most helpful to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It is also under investigation for conditions such as urinary incontinence, migraines, and other headaches.

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