About four decades ago Derek Johnston, from Oxford, England, published a paper entitled, "Clinical Applications of Biofeedback" in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine, November 1978. By then it was widely accepted that in man there are frequently some psychological components in the causation, response and recovery from physical illnesses. This marked the role of psychosomatic factors in the causation of human illnesses.
Simply speaking, when you raise your arm to wave to a friend, or take a step to climb a staircase, or walk on the footpath, the actions involved are under your voluntary control. Whereas, the heart rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature are under involuntary control of your nervous system. Biofeedback therapy is aimed at relieving 'stress' through relaxation techniques. The person is trained to consciously manipulate his breathing, heart rate, and other involuntary functions. Biofeedback techniques are thus employed to gain control over these involuntary functions of the body through training sessions. .
Biofeedback therapy is employed to prevent, alleviate, or treat conditions like headaches, migraine, chronic pain, urinary incontinence, and high blood pressure. These techniques harness the power of one's mind to promote relaxation which can relieve a number of conditions related or caused by stress, a factor which plays a major role in the causation of many diseases. During a biofeedback session the patient tries to control the stress-induced changes like the increased heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles, increased sweating, and quickened breathing.
Types of Biofeedback
During a biofeedback session sophisticated electronic gadgetry is used to monitor different body functions:
Electromyogram: It measures muscle activity and tension. It is used to relieve body pain, headache, anxiety, post-injury spasms, and urinary incontinence.
Skin temperature measurement: Used to relieve headaches, and Raynaud's disease.
Electroencephalography (EEG): Used to study the pattern of brain waves, and helps in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, and other seizures.
Electrodermal activity (EDA): It measures sweating, and used to relieve pain and anxiety.
Heart Rate Variability (HRA): It is used to manage anxiety, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart rate irregularities.
Usually each biofeedback therapy session lasts for 30 minutes, and benefits become evident after 10, 20, or 30 sessions. The exact mechanism of action of biofeedback is not known.
In addition other relaxation exercises like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation are also helpful.
To summarize biofeedback training is non-invasive, and is used to relieve and manage many physical and mental illnesses. Biofeedback might be an option when medication fails, or the person is intolerant to prescribed medication. Biofeedback is generally safe, but is not an alternative to standard medical advice.