Biofeedback, also known as Neurofeedback, EEG Biofeedback, NF and NFB is a medically approved, non-invasive, drug-free form of brain self-regulation that improves the central nervous system by training the brain to operate at an optimal level.
Neurofeedback was discovered by NASA in the 1960s, and is essentially a complementary mind-body therapy that works on the premise that by harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what’s going on inside your body, you can gain more control over your health.
This non-invasive healing modality uses a simple machine to measure body functions of which one is normally not even aware, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating and tightness in the muscles.
The brain is the centre of our central nervous system. It is a sophisticated command and control centre that is responsible for controlling all the other systems in the body; it receives and processes information from your body and the environment and enables you to process and store information and formulate subconscious appropriate responses via a vast and wonderful neural network.
Though based in technology, this brain-training system is totally non-invasive and drug-free, and helps the central nervous system (CNS) make the best use of your brain’s natural resources to alleviate a variety of physical and emotional problems.
What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback allows one to gather information about one’s body’s functions in order to learn how to change them. In a nutshell, with biofeedback you get information (“feedback”) about what your body (“bio”) is doing. Weighing yourself on a scale and taking your temperature with a thermometer are examples of biofeedback.
Biofeedback involves training the mind to gain control over physiological reactions that are ordinarily involuntary and automatic through “feedback” information.
Biofeedback uses electronic equipment to measure body functions such as breath rate, perspiration, blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature.
By developing voluntary control techniques to change those body functions, patients can reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Biofeedback can help reduce stress and tension, lessen pain and promote relaxation. With proper training, one can reduce or eliminate symptoms and replace feelings of helplessness with a sense of control over one’s health.
Biofeedback can teach individuals techniques for living a healthier life overall.
How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?
Neurofeedback is a methodology whereby the brain is trained to regulate itself at its optimal level. Biofeedback promotes relaxation, which can help relieve a number of conditions that are related to stress.
In a biofeedback session, electrodes (small circles of metal, cloth or plastic) are attached to your skin to measure different body functions. Finger sensors can also be used. These electrodes/sensors send signals to a monitor, which displays a sound, flash of light, or image that represents your heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweating, or muscle activity. Although the therapy uses electrical signals, it doesn’t hurt.
When you’re under stress, these functions change. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your blood pressure rises, you start to sweat, and your breathing quickens. You can see these stress responses as they happen on the monitor, and then get immediate feedback as you try to stop them. The machine displays the level of the body function it is measuring and gives you feedback right away on your body’s functions. The machine may use flashing lights, an image or a sound to represent your body function.
State-of-the-art technology is used to measure the stress and anxiety that is reflected in the person’s physiological states. The patient can watch a computer screen to see their stress level rise and see the connection of their anxiety and their headaches.
A biofeedback therapist will show you how to work the machines and will teach you relaxation strategies like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups), guided imagery or mindfulness meditation that you can fine-tune to control different body functions. For example, you might use a relaxation technique to turn down the brainwaves that activate when you have a headache.
Patients are taught specific relaxation methods and how to use their minds to change or alter their perception of the pain.
Biofeedback sessions are typically done in a therapist’s office, but there are computer programs that connect the biofeedback sensor to your own computer.
Exercises Used in Biofeedback Therapy
Several different relaxation exercises are used in biofeedback therapy, including:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation — alternately tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups
- Guided imagery — concentrating on a specific image (such as the color and texture of an orange) to focus your mind and make you feel more relaxed
- Mindfulness meditation — focusing your thoughts and letting go of negative emotions
As you slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and ease muscle tension, you’ll get instant feedback on the screen. Eventually, you’ll learn how to control these functions on your own, without the biofeedback equipment.
Different Types of Biofeedback
Several different types of biofeedback are used to monitor different body functions:
Temperature or Thermal Biofeedback measures your skin temperature. When we are scared or anxious, our skin temperature is cool. When we are relaxed and happy, our skin temperature is warmer. It may be used for headaches and Raynaud’s disease.
Electromyography (EMG) Biofeedback measures muscle activity and tension. Knowing about the tension in your muscles, and where it is, can help you learn to relax them. It may be used for back pain, headaches, anxiety disorders, muscle retraining after injury, and incontinence.
Electrodermal Activity (EDA) measures sweating or how damp or wet your skin is. Skin is normally dry when you are relaxed. But when you are anxious, your sweat glands are more active and there is more sweat on your skin. It may be used for pain and anxiety.
Heart Rate Variability (HRA) measures heart rate/how fast your heart is beating. When you are worried or anxious, your heart beats faster, and you have higher blood pressure. It may be used for anxiety, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and irregular heartbeat.
Each biofeedback therapy section generally lasts about 30 minutes. Usually, you can start to see biofeedback benefits within 10 sessions or less. Some conditions, such as high blood pressure, can take 20 or more sessions to improve.
Biofeedback Therapy can safely be used for and can help for many different conditions, including:
Anxiety: Anxiety relief is one of the most common uses of biofeedback. Biofeedback lets you become more aware of your body’s responses when you’re stressed and anxious. Then you can learn how to control those responses.
Chronic Pain: By helping you identify tight muscles and then learn to relax those muscles, biofeedback may help relieve the discomfort of conditions like low back pain, abdominal pain, temporo-mandibular joint disorders (TMJ), and fibromyalgia. For pain relief, biofeedback can benefit people of all ages, from children to older adults.
Headaches: Headaches are one of the best-studied biofeedback uses. Muscle tension and stress can trigger migraines and other types of headaches, and can make headache symptoms worse. There is good evidence that biofeedback therapy can relax muscles and ease stress to reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches. Biofeedback seems to be especially beneficial for headaches when it’s combined with medications.
High Blood Pressure: Evidence on the use of biofeedback for high blood pressure has been mixed. Although the technique does seem to lower blood pressure slightly, biofeedback isn’t as effective as medication for blood pressure control.
Urinary Incontinence: Biofeedback therapy can help people who have trouble controlling the urge to use the bathroom. Biofeedback can help women find and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that control bladder emptying. After several sessions of biofeedback, women with incontinence may be able to reduce their urgent need to urinate and the number of accidents they have. Biofeedback can also help children who wet the bed, as well as people with fecal incontinence (the inability to control bowel movements). Unlike drugs used to treat incontinence, biofeedback doesn’t tend to cause side effects.
Other biofeedback uses include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- High blood pressure
- Raynaud’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Biofeedback for Cancer
Biofeedback can improve the quality of life for some people with cancer. Biofeedback can help muscle strengthening exercises be more effective. Research has found that biofeedback can be helpful for people regaining urinary and bowel function (continence) after cancer surgery.
Biofeedback is also effective for relieving many types of chronic pain, especially tension and migraine headaches.
Biofeedback has been shown to help patients reduce the severity and occurrence of headaches, insomnia, and chronic pain, but has not been found to affect cancer cells.
While biofeedback will not cure your disease, research shows that it can help relieve a wide range of symptoms cancer patients experience, such as tension, stress, depression and pain.
Biofeedback has also proven useful in retraining, reconditioning and strengthening muscles after surgery, restoring loss of control due to pain or nerve damage and overcoming urinary or bowel incontinence.
Biofeedback for Children
Biofeedback is gentle and non-invasive, making it highly effective for children. It has been well received by parents and educators alike. It involves the child learning to control their brainwaves by doing small tasks on a computer and getting positive enforcement when they are successful.
While there is no evidence at this time that biofeedback can treat cancer itself, it can be used very effectively to help children cope with pain, and to reduce anxiety and stress.
Research has shown that biofeedback can also be helpful if you are trying to regain urinary and bowel function (continence) after cancer surgery. It can help your muscle-strengthening exercises work better.
Biofeedback is also useful in retraining muscles after injury or surgery. It can also help in teaching muscles to take over for other muscles that no longer work as they used to.
Biofeedback is also helpful for improving dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. This can be conducted in a trained professional’s office, or with in-home products like MindWave.
The American Federal Drug Association has approved neurofeedback for stress reduction and the American Pediatric Academy has endorsed neurofeedback as a “Level 1/Best Support” treatment for children with ADHD and has equated neurofeedback with medication in terms of efficacy for resolving ADHD.
Brian Ryals, M.D., a neurologist at Cook Children’s, suggested biofeedback for Zachary and sessions with specialist Nanny Christie, Ph.D., at the Medical Center.
“Doctors have medication and that can be helpful,” Dr. Ryals said. “We saw a few years ago that we needed more than to just give pills when a child has a headache or suffering from pain. One of the first things we looked at was lifestyle management.”
The mind can be a powerful instrument. Biofeedback teaches patients better awareness and control over their mind and body. Christie uses special monitoring equipment that displays physical changes taking place. This enables the person to gain control over changing their own mind and body. It is especially helpful in teaching relaxation training. Her patients are taught how to relax by reducing their muscle tension, using calm and slow breathing, lowering heart rate and quieting their minds to lower their pain.
The patients also participate in activities by playing video games or watching movies. As they control their stress, the game or movie continues to play. If they can’t control their stress, the activity stops.
“People learn to get control over their physiology,” Christie said. “Kids come in and they don’t feel control of their pain at all. We are giving that control back to them.”
Possible Side Effects
There is no known medical risk in using biofeedback, a non-invasive therapy. The small amount of electricity used to produce reading on the electronic equipment may affect a pacemaker. Some individuals have experienced a bit of dizziness or anxiety during biofeedback sessions.
Biofeedback, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive, improving quality of life. However, it should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your doctor for more information
What the Doctors Say
Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Integrative Medicine, and a pediatrician at the Whole Child Center in Oradell, N.J. recommends Biofeedback devices for stress and says while he has used Biofeedback on patients of all ages to relax them before surgery, children take to it especially quickly, treating it like a video game. Dr. Rosen said they get a kick out of watching the colours change as their breathing slows.
“I teach them really simple little breathing techniques, and we work on synchronizing their breathing with their heartbeat,” he said. “When they see the green light show up on the meter, it shows them that they’re doing it effectively. And when they need work, it’s at red.
You can teach them how to control their breathing in a way that positively affects their heart rate variability. And not only do they feel more relaxed, but the body’s physiology changes. We can measure hormone levels that show that the body is in a less stressed state.”
“I can sit with a kid for an hour and work on yoga, but they get bored,” he said. “You need something that’s appealing and quick. This is immediate visual feedback. I’ve used it on people as young as 3 years old and up to 103.”
The Effect of EEG Biofeedback on Reducing Postcancer Cognitive Impairment
By Jean Alvarez, Dr. Fremonta L. Meyer, 2013
This study shows NeurOptimal Neurofeedback brain training regimen reverses cognitive impairment symptoms in over 90% of chemo brain patients tested, reducing the negative cognitive and emotional sequelae of cancer treatment as well as improving fatigue and sleep patterns.
Efficacy of EEG Biofeedback in Addressing Cognitive Dysfunction in Cancer Survivors
By Jean Alvarez, David L. Granoff, Allan Lundy, 2011
This study examined the efficacy of EEG biofeedback (neurofeedback) in addressing the cognitive sequelae of cancer therapy, commonly known as “chemobrain” or “chemofog.” Approximately 50% of breast cancer survivors exhibit cognitive impairment within three weeks of beginning chemotherapy, and half of those have not recovered one year later. Neurofeedback, unlike compensatory strategies currently recommended by the National Cancer Institute and major cancer centers, has the potential to restore cognitive function.
Improvement/Rehabilitation of Memory Functioning with Neurotherapy/QEEG Biofeedback
By Kirtley Thornton, PhD, 2000
An article in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation following a clinical study, which found brain injury patients who utilized NFB saw improvements in memory from 68% to 181%.
Children diagnosed with cancer experience many invasive procedures throughout diagnosis and treatment of their disease. These procedures, oftentimes a source of distress in children, can elicit a variety of anticipatory symptoms prior to the actual procedure. Although there have been efforts to develop approaches to alleviate this distress through use of distraction, relaxation, sedation, guided imagery, and hypnosis, there has not been a combination treatment that merged relaxation techniques and biofeedback within a pediatric framework.
A group of 12 children diagnosed with cancer participated in a 4-session intervention combining relaxation and biofeedback. This feasibility study suggests that the combination intervention offered in a clinical setting may be beneficial to children experiencing procedural distress as a novel coping strategy.
Implications for Advanced Practice Nursing is intimately involved with children receiving active treatment for their cancer diagnosis. Much of this involvement centers on painful, frightening procedures that are integral in management of the disease process. These procedures viewed through the transactional model of stress and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) are recognized as person–environment transactions that serve as challenges for these children. Techniques to decrease anxiety and fear related to these procedures help change the emotional stress caused by the challenge. By encouraging the child to be in control of his or her body through the combined use of relaxation and biofeedback, the child is able to see, in real-time, when he or she is “in the zone.”
This process of getting into the zone reflects the mind, body, and spirit alignment and is consistent with an integrated approach to care. Once recognized as a positive experience, the child is able to reframe the challenge and develop a plan of action using the tools learned, thus moving to a more problem-focused approach. Even though the situation itself (invasive procedure) is not entirely under the child’s control, the child’s control of his breathing and mind, body, spirit alignment is his alone.
Physiologically, when “in the zone,” there is a shift toward increased parasympathetic activity as evidenced by a decreased heart rate, respiratory rate, and muscle tone and increased oxygenation to the brain allowing for more clarity of thought. This combination intervention of relaxation and biofeedback served as a tool to increase participants’ awareness of the connection between emotions, physiological changes, and self-regulation. This study group, while enjoying the intervention activities, appeared to benefit from the techniques offered.
Biofeedback-assisted relaxation training offers a portable, easily learned, and remembered technique that is appropriate for children in the treatment setting prior to their invasive procedures. It requires a biofeedback device that engages the participant and a setting in which the child can practice relaxation techniques (belly breathing). Although offered in this study to children with cancer, other populations that may also benefit are children with sickle-cell disease as a strategy for initial relaxation and pain management.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.
LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.