Mind Over Matter: Does Biofeedback Work?

Research shows it is a promising therapy for symptoms ranging from chronic pain to high blood pressure. But how does biofeedback work?

does biofeedback work

Research shows it is a promising therapy for symptoms ranging from chronic pain to high blood pressure. But how does biofeedback work?

We are unaware of much of what our body does on a day-to-day basis. While we are conscious of picking up an object or saying hello to a friend, we don’t notice our heart beating or our muscles contracting to keep us standing upright. For many people, these unconscious body responses can get out of balance and contribute to a variety of negative symptoms.

Used therapeutically for the last fifty years, biofeedback is a valuable tool that allows us to take control over various physiological processes going on in our body. It can help us to control our heart rate, relax a certain muscle, or alter brain wave activity to improve our health naturally. 

How does biofeedback work?

During biofeedback therapy, electrodes and other devices are used to measure physiological variables such as skin temperature, muscle activity, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.[1] Neurofeedback refers to biofeedback where brain wave activity is measured, which is useful for treating conditions such as ADHD.[2] The sensors measuring these variables send signals to a monitor or other equipment, which displays a number, sound, or image that represents the level of that variable. For example, each time your heart beats, a sound might be heard, or a line moving across the screen may represent your blood pressure.

Using this visual or auditory information, a biofeedback practitioner teaches you strategies and techniques that can help you to voluntarily control your body’s responses. They may ask you to take deep breaths until your heart rate slows and your blood pressure drops, indicating your body has relaxed. Or they may ask you to alternately contract and relax a muscle while observing a representation of that muscle activity on the screen. Biofeedback allows you to learn what you can do using your conscious mind to take control over otherwise involuntary physiological processes. Some biofeedback sessions include completing a type of video game on the screen by reaching target values for the variables being measured.[1]

What conditions benefit from biofeedback therapy?

For many people, learning how to control body processes can provide relief from a variety of symptoms. Biofeedback is helpful for controlling stress and anxiety by teaching patients to reduce the strength of the stress response when facing negative stimuli.[3] In other cases, it can help patients to regulate chronic pain or headache pain.[4] Headache patients can learn techniques such as how to relax muscles in their neck and head and how to lower blood pressure to find relief from their pain.[5]

Biofeedback is considered an effective treatment for conditions such as those listed below:[4]

1)     Headache and migraine[5]

2)     Hypertension

3)     Anxiety

4)     Stress[3]

5)     Epilepsy

6)     Constipation

7)     Urinary incontinence in women

8)     Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder[2]

Try biofeedback for yourself

More than just a treatment, biofeedback is a training process for you to learn the skills necessary to control your symptoms using your brainpower. Sessions generally last for 30 minutes and, depending on your condition, may be repeated 10 to 20 times.

Share your experience

Have you ever tried biofeedback? Does biofeedback work for you? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.

[1] J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2013 Jun 18;10:60.

[2] Neurotherapeutics. 2012 Jul;9(3):588-98.

[3] Int J Psychophysiol. 2014 Mar;91(3):225-31.

[4] Ment Health Fam Med. 2010 Jun;7(2):85-91.

[5] Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2008 Sep;33(3):125-40.

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UHN Staff

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  • I’ve been offering neurofeedback training with psychotherapy for 14 years and have found the combination to be extremely effective.
    It is amazing, natural and safe.
    Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN

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