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  Home  > Personal Wellness  > Biofeedback and Treatment

Biofeedback and Treatment

P>The word biofeedback was coined in the late 1960s to describe laboratory procedures then being used to train experimental research subjects to alter brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and other bodily functions that normally are not controlled voluntarily.

At the time, many scientists looked forward to the day when biofeedback would give us a major degree of control over our bodies. They thought, for instance, that we might be able to will ourselves to be more creative by changing the patterns of our brainwaves. Some believed that biofeedback would one day make it possible to do away with drug treatments that often cause uncomfortable side effects in clients with high blood pressure and other serious conditions.

Today, most scientists agree that such high hopes were not realistic. Research has demonstrated that biofeedback can help in the treatment of many diseases and painful conditions. It has shown that we have more control over so-called involuntary bodily function than we once thought possible. But it has also shown that nature limits the extent of such control. Scientists are now trying to determine just how much voluntary control we can exert.

Clinical biofeedback techniques that grew out of the early laboratory procedures are now widely used to treat an ever-lengthening list of conditions. These include:

  • Migraine headaches, tension headaches, and many other types of pain
  • Disorders of the digestive system
  • High blood pressure and its opposite, low blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (abnormalities, sometimes dangerous, in the rhythm of the heartbeat)
  • Raynaud's disease (a circulatory disorder that causes uncomfortably cold hands)
  • Epilepsy
  • Paralysis and other movement disorders
  • Stress reactions

Specialists who provide biofeedback training range from psychiatrists and psychologists to dentists, internists, nurses, and physical therapists. Most rely on many other techniques in addition to biofeedback. Clients usually are taught some form of relaxation exercise. Some learn to identify the circumstances that trigger their symptoms. They may also be taught how to avoid or cope with these stressful events. Most are encouraged to change their habits, and some are trained in special techniques for gaining such self-control.

Biofeedback is not magic. It cannot cure disease or, by itself, make a person healthy. It is a tool, one of many available to health care professionals. It reminds physicians that behavior, thoughts, and feelings profoundly influence physical health. And it helps both clients and doctors understand that they must work together as a team.*


* Excerpted from Bette Runck, Plain Talk Series, DHHS Publication No. (ADM) 83-1273, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Division of Communications and Education, National Institute of Mental Health Public Health Service - Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1983).


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