The use of specific biofeedback began in the 1960s with the introduction of the EEG (electroencephalogram) to teach relaxation. However, the principles of biofeedback date back more than half a century. Beginning as an interesting phenomenon, it developed into a well-established treatment for a variety of medical problems.

Essentially, biofeedback is a technique that provides you with the knowledge, awareness, and expertise necessary to scan your body for harmful muscle tension. Once you detect that tension, biofeedback helps you learn to release it and prevent the tension from accumulating and causing harm.

In order to help you become aware of the body's ways of signaling tension, biofeedback therapy uses sensitive monitoring equipment. This equipment provides an immediate, visual feedback loop so that you can become aware of ongoing activities in the body of which you are normally unaware, such as muscle tension, skin temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.

In this way, you can obtain immediate feedback as to the state of tension or relaxation in your body and can see the immediate results of applying various relaxation techniques. For example, if an electrode is connected to your forehead and you raise your eyebrows or clench your teeth, an immediate result can be seen as the biofeedback instrument signals increased muscle activity on the monitor.

Biofeedback sessions: what is involved?

A biofeedback therapist will likely teach you a variety of relaxation techniques including diaphragmatic breathing, body awareness, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, meditation, autogenics, and thought stopping.

As biofeedback is a learned skill, you may initially participate in short formal sessions to learn the techniques and practice on your own every day to develop and perfect these skills. People usually begin to see positive results within the first few sessions.

Is biofeedback safe?

Biofeedback is a very safe, noninvasive technique with no known negative side effects. No electricity is introduced into the body during biofeedback.

What conditions can biofeedback be used for?

Numerous clinical studies have established biofeedback's effectiveness in a variety of conditions, including:

  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • high blood pressure
  • migraine headaches
  • Raynaud's syndrome
  • seizure activity
  • tension headaches
  • plus other disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), incontinence, asthma, and diabetes, to name a few
original article written by Lynda Thorson, RN, and Zenona Hrabar, MD
with revisions by the MediResource Clinical Team