How can biofeedback help treat chronic pain?

Biofeedback is a mind/body relaxation technique that uses electronics to measure such stress-related body responses as heart rate or muscle contractions. This type of therapy is based on the idea that when people are given information about their body's internal processes, they can use this information to learn to control those processes.

There is good evidence that biofeedback might help to relieve many types of chronic pain, including tension and migraine headaches, according to a consensus statement from the National Institutes of Health. In one study by researchers at the Department of Psychology, University of South Alabama, 80 percent of children who suffered with migraines were symptom-free after receiving intensive biofeedback training. In other research, some headache patients who were able to increase hand temperature using thermal biofeedback also experienced fewer and less intense migraine headaches.

With biofeedback, you are connected to a machine that informs you and your therapist when you are physically relaxing your body. With sensors placed over specific muscle sites, the therapist will read the tension in your muscles, heart rate, breathing pattern, the amount of sweat produced or body temperature. Any one or all these readings can let the trained biofeedback therapist know if you are learning to relax. Because the instruments magnify signals that you might not otherwise notice, you can use this visual or auditory response to learn how to control certain bodily functions. The ultimate goal of biofeedback is to use this skill outside the therapist's office when you are facing real stressors. For those with chronic pain, you know the “real stressor” is pain itself. Nevertheless, other daily stressors can cause your pain to flare. Learning to respond in a healthy way to the chronic stressors is the goal. If learned properly, electronic biofeedback can help you control your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing patterns, and muscle tension when you are not hooked up to the machine. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.