What are the Different Types of Biofeedback Treatment?

Marisa O'Connor

Different types of biofeedback treatment are used to monitor and regulate a variety of physiological reactions to stress. Biofeedback therapy has been successful in regulating heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and muscle tension. Some different types of biofeedback treatment include electromyography (EMG), thermal biofeedback, electrodermal response (EDR) and neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG).

A boy connected to an EEG machine, which provides biofeedback.
A boy connected to an EEG machine, which provides biofeedback.

One type of biofeedback treatment is EMG, which measures muscle tension. EMG has shown some success in stimulating nerves and even providing some mobility in muscles and limbs that have been paralyzed due to stroke. The theory is that even though there is little to no sensation in the muscles, the biofeedback monitor can detect some electrical activity. When the patient hears or sees the feedback, his or her nervous system will sometimes send more electrical activity to that limb.

EEG biofeedback therapy is sometimes used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
EEG biofeedback therapy is sometimes used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The more common use of EMG biofeedback is treating and monitoring chronic muscle tension caused by stress. Ideally, when the patient hears or sees the biofeedback data in real-time, he or she will be able to focus and affect the feedback with the help of a biofeedback therapist using relaxation and other cognitive techniques. When the patient is successful, he or she can see or hear the results from the biofeedback machine. Eventually, many patients are able to practice biofeedback therapy on their own, without the aid of the therapist or monitoring system.

EDR can be used to treat excessive sweating.
EDR can be used to treat excessive sweating.

Another example of the different types of biofeedback is thermal biofeedback. Thermal biofeedback measures skin temperature. This treatment is very helpful in measuring stress responses. When a person experiences stress, his or her blood flows primarily toward muscles and organs, causing the skin temperature to drop. Thermal biofeedback can also help in treating circulatory problems.

Thermal biofeedback can be used to treat circulatory problems.
Thermal biofeedback can be used to treat circulatory problems.

EDR measures emotional arousal by determining the electrical conductivity of the patient's skin. EDR is also referred to as galvanic skin response (GSH). The conductivity is directly related to the activity of the sweat glands. EDR has been used in lie detector tests. It is also used to treat anxiety, phobias and excessive sweating.

Biofeedback techniques may help ameliorate migraines and chronic pain.
Biofeedback techniques may help ameliorate migraines and chronic pain.

EEG is also a common type of biofeedback treatment. EEG, or neurofeedback, measures brain wave activity. Of all the different types of biofeedback treatment, EEG has been most effectively used on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can also be effective in treating migraines in children and adults.

Not only are there different types of biofeedback treatment, there are also different ways to measure biofeedback results. During a biofeedback session, electrodes are placed on the patient's skin. The electrodes send information to the biofeedback machine, which then translates the information to either a tone, a visual meter or a line on a graph. As the biofeedback information changes, so does the pitch of the tone, brightness of the visual meter or line on the graph.

A type of neurofeedback equipment, an electroencephalogram -- or EEG -- machine measures electrical impulse activity in the brain and can help give a diagnosis for conditions such as epilepsy.
A type of neurofeedback equipment, an electroencephalogram -- or EEG -- machine measures electrical impulse activity in the brain and can help give a diagnosis for conditions such as epilepsy.

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Discussion Comments

candyquilt

Although there are different types of biofeedback methods and treatments, they all basically measure stress. When we are stressed, the body gives different types of reactions. Some people have high blood pressure, others have anxiety, and yet others have migraines or sweating. Biofeedback uses different methods to measure stress based on the type of symptom. But I believe that the underlying cause for all of these issues are the same, stress.

fify

@bluedolphin-- There are different opinions about biofeedback for stress and ADHD, which involves EEG. Some say it works, while others say it doesn't. For ADHD, the treatment is expected to take forty sessions.

The way biofeedback works for ADHD is that it measures brainwaves and tells the patient on a screen whether the brainwaves are good or bad. That is, it tells the patient when the brain is losing attention or getting stressed. The goal is to use a sort of reward and punishment system with sounds and visuals to train the brain to produce more of the beneficial brainwaves.

ADHD is thought to cause abnormal brainwaves. People with ADHD have too many theta waves and not enough beta waves, which makes it very difficult to pay attention and focus.

bluedolphin

I'm interested in biofeedback treatment for stress and ADHD. Is the therapy really effective for these issues? How many sessions are generally required?

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