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Bio-feed back - Introduction


Biofeedback operates on the notion that we have the innate ability and potential to influence the automatic functions of our bodies through the exertion of will and mind. Biofeedback has recently been shown to give us what had previously seemed an impossible degree of control over a variety of physiologic events. It is a great tool to harness the power of mind-body medicine

For example, a person can be trained in a matter of days to cause the temperature of one hand to rise five to ten degrees higher than that of the other hand, while not contracting the hand muscles. What is amazing is that even animals can be trained. In one experiment, researchers trained a laboratory rat to produce a differential in the temperature of its two ears in order to receive a food reward.


This experiment, although it appears to satisfy science fiction enthusiasts at first, nevertheless has practical applications. When people trained in biofeedback cause their hands to quickly become warmer than normal, this can effectively short-circuit a migraine attack. The blood which ordinarily engorges the blood vessels of the head in migraine is diverted to the hands and arms. This effectively removes the headache. In cases of "pure"migraine , a person can be successfully taught this technique and stop headaches in a week or less. However in 90 percent of migraine cases, there is chronic tension that must also be treated over a longer period of time by biofeedback relaxation techniques. Biofeedback can also be used to train persons to block the pain of colitis, neuritis, and other conditions. Many of these techniques have been scientifically proven.

Using a special machine and sensors to record muscle contractions and skin temperature, you can learn to control normally involuntary processes such as heart rate and blood pressure that increase under stress. The machine "feeds back" the efforts and eventually you can recognize and control facets of the stress response by yourself. Once viewed with skepticism, the control of "involuntary" responses is now seen to be effective in the treatment of migraine headaches, asthma and other disorders in certain individuals.

Interest in biofeedback has waxed and waned since its inception in the 1960s; it is, however, undergoing something of a renaissance during the early 21st century, which some experts attribute to the general rise in interest about all alternative medicine modalities. Neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback treatment, has also become a popular treatment for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); electromyogram biofeedback, used for muscle tension, has been widely studied and is currently accepted as a treatment for incontinence disorders, and small biofeedback machines are becoming available for a variety of uses in the home. The role of biofeedback in controlling hypertension is also becoming recognised.


Once a person has learned to become deeply relaxed, it becomes possible for him to elicit the same state of mind that he uses in the biofeedback laboratory when he is at home or at work, He simply relaxes and tries to precisely recall how he felt when he was keeping the buzzer or the light continuously extinguished.

Or, if the problem is blood pressure, he remembers how he felt when the monitor cuff attached to his arm revealed that his pressure was reduced to normal.

As with all therapies, results vary, but they are often impressive. Several researchers have reported promising results with asthmatics, pointing out that spasms of the airway passages involve muscular contractions, and that these muscular actions are amenable to relaxation training.

Many people suffering from headaches  and chronic pain resulting from injuries or operations have learned to greatly reduce their dependency on drugs and sometimes give them up completely.


In an experiment with six patients with cerebral palsy, biofeedback training enabled all six to relax sufficiently to improve both fine and gross motor coordination. Four of the six also improved their speech, and a subsequent study confirmed these findings.

Biofeedback training can also be used to gain active control over our muscles. In such cases, devices measuring very slight muscular activity are attached to the target area and the trick is for the person to do whatever he finds necessary to make the machine go on, instead of off. Many patients discover that they do have some slight control over areas which were thought to be helpless or paralyzed, and with continuing work, a surprising degree of control can be regained. Rehabilitation of stroke and accident victims is one obvious application, although still experimental. One researcher has said that he has been able to train people with fecal incontinence, and no apparent nervous control over their anal sphincter, to become continent again with just one to four hours of training.

When biofeedback is given along with yoga or meditative relaxation techniques, the results seem to be especially gratifying. For one thing, when someone is practicing meditation for relaxation while connected to a biofeedback machine, he can immediately perceive if he is going about it in the proper way.

A study reported in Lancet (July 19, 1975) evaluated the difference between six weeks' treatment by yoga relaxation methods with biofeedback with a "placebo" therapy consisting of general relaxation. 34 high blood pressure patients were used in the study. One group was given yoga relaxation techniques with biofeedback. The control group used just relaxation.

Both groups showed some reduction in blood pressure. But while the "general relaxation" group went down from an average of 169/101 to 160/96 mm., the biofeedback group showed an average reduction from 168/100 to 141/84 mm. The drop of 16 points in the blood pressure is extremely significant.

Various field studies and a number of controlled trials have shown that biofeedback therapy is a valid means of inducing relaxation, of treating certain functional disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation , and tension headaches, and of speeding recovery following a stroke.


Biofeedback therapy is not recommended for persons with severe psychosis, depression, or obsessional neurosis, nor for debilitated patients or those with psychopathic personalities. It is dangerous for diabetics and others with endocrine disorders, as it can change the need for insulin and other medications.


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