At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Biofeedback is a non-invasive therapy used to help patients regulate various biological functions by monitoring different feedback signals given by the body. For example, when biofeedback devices emit a flashing light, buzzer, or other signal pattern to indicate an increase in blood pressure, the patient then concentrates on reducing the frequency or intensity of the signal in order to improve the condition that caused it to spike. In effect, biofeedback treatment is very much like a conditioning exercise for the patient in which the biofeedback device acts as a coach. What types of biofeedback devices are used depends on the condition present. In fact, there are several different types of biofeedback systems.
One of the most common biofeedback devices in use is the electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brain wave activity in relation to mental alertness and muscle tension. While beta brain wave activity occurs during normal wakefulness, alpha brain waves suggest a state of relaxation. On the other hand, theta brain waves are associated with being in the first stage of sleep, while delta waves are observed during deep sleep.
Therapists believe that by consciously altering the speed at which brain waves occur, various neurological conditions may be addressed. For example, a therapist might employ this device to help train patients suffering from anxiety to increase alpha brain wave activity, or to help epileptics reduce the frequency of seizures through theta brain wave regulation.
One of the most accurate of biofeedback devices is the electrodermal response (EDR) machine, which detects slight electrical impulses in the skin generated by sweat glands. Specifically, this instrument measures fluctuating water and salt levels excreted by sweat gland ducts on the skin. This type of biofeedback therapy is used to help patients who exhibit high levels of emotional excitement, perhaps due to traumatic events or phobias. Athletes also use this device to help reduce anxiety before competing. Of course, this device is also known to law enforcement since it is used to administer lie detector tests.
The electromyogram (EMG) is another kind of biofeedback device used to measure tension in various muscle groups. This technique has proven helpful in treating patients with muscle impairment or even complete muscle loss. In fact, it is used to stimulate muscle activity and new nerve growth in patients who have experienced paralysis due to stroke. In addition, this machine provides feedback in terms of muscle relaxation, making it useful in training patients to relieve stress-induced conditions, such as tension headaches, or chronic neck and back pain.
Medical professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, dentists, etc., typically provide biofeedback training to individuals. The list of conditions treated with biofeedback has grown considerably since its introduction in the early 1960s to include migraines, cardiac arrhythmias, high blood pressure, epilepsy, paralysis, and circulatory disorders, such as Raynaud's disease. However, while biofeedback therapy can be very beneficial for many people, it cannot prevent or cure disease alone.