Biofeedback for Pain: Regaining Control of Your Body and Your Life
Our bodies are pretty amazing machines. Even before we had all these medical contraptions and medicines to help us get healthier, the body was hardwired to heal itself.
How else would humanity have survived all these long centuries?
Left by itself—and so long as it isn’t overwhelmed—your body can heal itself of many injuries, infections and diseases that it is afflicted with.
The process itself is fairly involuntary and beyond your active control—for the most part.
Conditions that’s hallmark is pain are too numerous to name, and result in many having to deal with the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of living with them.
Many seek alternatives to conventional medical care, and one of those is Biofeedback.
The core concept of Biofeedback centers on having a greater consciousness of the physiological functions of your body in order to better exert control over them where otherwise you would be unable to do so.
It sounds like a crazy concept, but it promises to allow you to control pain perception, heart rate, muscle tone, skin conductance and even brain waves.
Biofeedback promises to improve health and performance—including those tied with shifts in emotions, behavior and thoughts.
How It Works
According to Medical News Today, the initial steps in biofeedback require the use of precision instruments that measure brain waves, heart pacing, breathing, muscular activity and skin temperature.
You get a lot of electrodes attached to you during a biofeedback session.
Sometimes, they even use finger sensors. These collect heart rate, breathing, skin temperature, blood pressure, muscle activity data and more to a display that reads them all out.
The assumption is that, when you’re under stress or pain, these variables change to reflect what the body is going through.
There are three common types of feedback that are monitored. Some therapists do one, others cover all. It’s always better to get all bases covered.
• Thermal: This measures the skin temperature. The increases and decreases tend to be strongly tied to stress levels—with the body becoming hotter as stress levels increase.
• Electromyography: This measures the tension in the muscles via the electrical impulses that drive them. When one feels stressed and “tense”, the muscles tend to tense up as well.
• Neurological: This is the most complicated, but, perhaps the most relevant measure as it displays which areas of the brain are activated given specific reactions to things like stress. In monitoring these, it’s possible to counteract them.
As the patient, you are watching this information, you will be actively attempting to counteract the reactions through guided exercises watched over by a biofeedback therapist.
You might be doing deep breathing when you’re experiencing high blood pressure, or concentrate on a specific image to focus your mind when you’re stressed and suffering from migraines.
As you do these, the therapist will monitor the changes (for the better) and eventually, you should be able to initiate these changes without needing to be monitored.
Does It Work?
It might seem like a whole lot of new age mumbo jumbo, but, the technique has proven to be effective in treating migraines and headaches. In that sense, it does work.
After all, if you look at the exercises, there is this sense that it kind of draws from psychology—and the power of positive thinking. The only problem, really, is that scientists aren’t exactly sure of the mechanics of it or exactly how it works.
That makes it no less effective. It’s simply that critics will point out that it’s something that relies more on a person’s outlook and the perceived changes or perceived hopeful outcome than anything else.
Regardless, that doesn’t mean it’s not a viable practice. After all, among the many out there, it’s one that at least doesn’t come with any negative side effects.
And, keep in mind that soldiers in the military are successfully trained to ignore pain, sometimes horrific pain, cold, hunger and other deprivations. So this mind over matter concept is not without proof of success in real life.
It may be the power of suggestion, or mind over matter, but, in the end it doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and alleviates pain that impacts the quality of life.