What is Biofeedback?

In the recent past, there was some evidence that the way we feel emotionally mirrors the way we feel physically. Today, there is too much evidence to leave any doubt. People who carry with them anxiety and depression have a higher risk for medical problems as well as pain conditions in the body, such as arthritis, joint pain and back pain. We are still learning more about neurobiology every, and we haven't yet put all the pieces together. But there are many things we have learned, and are able to put into clinical practice today. Anxiety and depression don't necessarily cause musculoskeletal problems such as osteoarthritis, but they may affect the way our body responds to anatomical changes in our bodies, such as facet joint arthritis and degenerative disc disease of the spine. The connection between the physical disease and pain symptoms is not a straight one to one ratio. We mean this: the pain you feel is not directly affected by the physical problems in your body. The parts of the brain that receives pain signals from your body also receives signals from the emotional centers of your brain and the fight or flight regions. This part of the brain may modify pain signals when we experience emotions such as pleasure, comfort, and relaxation. These positive emotions may be fed into the parts of the brain that also receive pain signals from the spine. The overall net result that we experience may be acceptable comfort levels that do not disable us or leave us in pain the majority of the time.

There are various types of treatment that patients may access to control their moods and pain levels. Biofeedback is a treatment in which a person regulates their pain level through thought processes. This is a technique in which a person is first taught in a clinic to modify the physiological functions in their body, and then given a home program to self-treat at home. Through the use of electrodes placed on the body, biofeedback attempts to measure a physiological function, convert this measurement into an understandable form, and then feed this information back to the individual.

The electrodes are placed on muscle groups to record changes in muscle activity. The needle on the biofeedback machine records changes in muscle activity, such as when the muscles contract and relax. The machine will also be sensitive enough to measure continued tension in the muscle, which often occurs when people are scared or anxious. The movements of the needle or the signal size on the computer screen will indicate contractions (high electrical output) and relaxation (low electrical output). The degree or response of the needle or signal size provides the therapist with a numerical measurement for muscle tension.

The electrodes detect the body's psysiological response to pain by measuring perspiration, skin resistance, muscle tension, heart rate, and body temperature.

By controlling muscle tension and these other physiological body responses, patients may be able to control their mood and ultimately the body sensations that they feel, such as physical comfort and relaxation. If this therapy is successful, it may be superior substitute for other treatments that relax the body and muscles, such as tricyclic medications (anti-depressants) and central nervous system relaxers (e.g. muscle relaxers). All of these medications have a long list of undesirable side effects associated with them.

How does Biofeedback work? There are two theories why biofeedback is so effective. The first believes that the back can be relaxed by focusing on one muscle group, while the second believes that it is possible to focus on total body relaxation, thereby reducing pain. This treatment is especially beneficial for patients believed to suffer from back pain due to muscle tension or trigger points in their back. When we are stressed, anxious, or unhappy, our muscles tend to tense up, and the way we hold our bodies changes - into postures that may promote the onset of pain. Biofeedback can help "train" a back pain sufferer to avoid movements such as tensing of muscles and awkward posture to eventually eliminate pain.

Biofeedback therapists are liscensed by the Association for Applied Phychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB). Here is the contact information for that organization.

The Association for Applied Phychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB)
10200 West 44th Avenue
Suite 304
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
(800)477-8892 or (303)422-8436