Paying attention to tiny changes in bodily processes may improve mental health, hasten the recovery process after surgery or a stroke, manage incontinence, and more. This is how.
Small sensors that are put on the skin can give you therapeutic information that could improve your overall health and wellness.
Most likely, when you consider how to treat a sickness or health concern, you immediately think of pharmaceuticals and lifestyle modifications. Biofeedback is an additional option.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback describes biofeedback as a method of learning how to control physiological changes in the body to enhance health and performance. Doctors, physical therapists, psychologists, and other medical professionals use it to manage and treat a wide range of health problems, such as urine incontinence, anxiety, and chronic pain.
According to Nora Arnold, DPT, a physical therapist with the Johns Hopkins Rehabilitation Network and an expert in pelvic health, biofeedback is essentially any information the patient receives about their body in the present to help them understand what their body is doing and to improve coordination and awareness.
Receiving biofeedback can be done in numerous ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, a practitioner may attach sensors to your chest or belly to track your heart rate or to your abdomen or chest to monitor your breathing patterns.
The potential advantages of this therapy for health and wellness are listed below.
1. Could support rehabilitation
Biofeedback is frequently used with patients recovering from surgery by Roger W. Gerland, director of rehabilitation services at Northwell Health in New York City. He claims it can help retrain the muscle to begin firing once more.
Gerland uses electromyography (EMG) biofeedback, a form of biofeedback in which sensors are affixed to a patient’s target muscles in order to track their contractions. When the muscle contracts, the sensors are connected to a gadget that beeps or lights up. According to Gerland, “the higher the lights will light up and the more the beeps will sound, the stronger the patient generates a muscle contraction.”
A previous review said that EMG biofeedback is often used to help people with hemiplegia, which is a common side effect of strokes, spinal cord injuries, and seizures, improve how their muscles work.
EMG biofeedback combined with traditional physiotherapy was assessed for effectiveness in individuals with hemiplegia in a randomized controlled experiment that was published in February 2021 in Acta Neurologica Belgica. Five days a week for three weeks, one patient group had EMG biofeedback therapy. The tibialis anterior muscle, which stretches the ankle, was fitted with sensors to track the electrical activity that generates muscle contraction.
Patients who had the capacity to judge when and how well their ankles moved saw larger improvements in walking than those who just relied on traditional treatment.
In another randomized controlled experiment, which was published in September 2019 in Scientific Reports, similar results were found in a group of older adults recovering from hemiplegia after a stroke.
2. Might Reduce Stress-Related Urinary Incontinence
In order to treat stress urinary incontinence (SUI), also known as the unintentional leakage of pee, EMG biofeedback is frequently combined with pelvic-floor strengthening exercises. According to the Mayo Clinic, SUI more frequently affects women and happens when the tissues and muscles that govern the discharge of urine deteriorate.
In order to monitor the tension of the pelvic floor muscles during biofeedback for SUI, sensors are often fastened to the lower abdomen or inserted into the vagina. A review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews says that the sensors record the tension and send the information to a monitor that lights up or makes a sound when the pelvic floor muscles are properly tightened.
For certain bodily parts, such as the pelvic floor, this biofeedback may be highly beneficial. The pelvic floor is a part of the body that is difficult for humans to see, and Arnold notes that this lack of visual awareness over the course of a lifetime can make it difficult to understand how to recruit or govern the muscles there.
The Cochrane review, which looked at 24 studies with 1,583 women, found that women who got both pelvic floor muscle training and biofeedback were much more likely to say their SUI got better than those who just got pelvic floor muscle training.
The authors also found that the biofeedback groups talked to medical experts more often than the training-only groups. This may have helped the biofeedback groups get better results.
Newer research may hold more promise. After reviewing 21 studies, the authors of a systematic review and meta-analysis that was published in June 2021 in Advances in Therapy came to the conclusion that EMG biofeedback in conjunction with pelvic floor muscle training was more effective than training alone in the management of SUI.
3. Might Aid in Treating Epilepsy
A brain condition called epilepsy results in frequent seizures. According to the Mayo Clinic, a seizure is a rapid, uncontrollable electrical disturbance in the brain that results in alterations in actions, feelings, levels of consciousness, and behavior.
Prescription drugs are typically used to treat epilepsy. However, a previous report stated that approximately 30% of epileptics do not respond to medication and continue to experience seizures.
Galvanic skin response (GSR), a technique for biofeedback that tracks changes in the heat and voltage that flow through the skin, may be particularly helpful (also known as skin conductivity). A systematic review and meta-analysis published in April 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Neurology say that GSR is often used in lie detectors because skin conductance changes when people think about how they feel.
According to the aforementioned review, GSR biofeedback may aid in the prevention of epileptic seizures by improving control over and reducing the emotional and physiological arousal that can result in seizures, as well as by altering the brain regions linked to loss of consciousness. The authors came to this conclusion after examining four studies: GSR biofeedback may be a useful method for reducing epileptic seizures in individuals who don’t react to the medication.
There is still little and inadequate research on GSR biofeedback for epilepsy. To demonstrate its usefulness, additional research with larger sample numbers is required.
4. May Benefit Mental Health
It may be beneficial to learn how to control bodily processes like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure that cause tension and worry.
The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health published a review in November 2017 that looked at five randomized controlled studies on individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and major depressive disorder. The investigations incorporated a variety of biofeedback techniques, such as breath monitoring, neurofeedback (the use of scalp sensors to track brain activity), and heart rate variability (a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat). It has been found to be especially helpful to use biofeedback along with traditional mood therapies like CBT and psychotherapy.
Overall, people who got some kind of biofeedback instruction from a doctor had more noticeable improvements in their symptoms than those who didn’t.
Many of the studies the authors looked at had tiny sample sizes and left out important study design information, they said. The results need to be confirmed by larger, higher-quality investigations.
Heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback in particular may enhance mental health and alleviate depression, according to another research and meta-analysis that was published in March 2021 in Scientific Reports. According to the scientists, having a lower HRV, or less fluctuation in the interval between each pulse may increase the chance of developing depression. You might improve your breathing habits by controlling your breathing with HRV biofeedback. The review found that as HRV improves, depressive symptoms diminish.
5. Aids in the treatment of asthma
Using HRV biofeedback to control your breathing may also help you feel less stressed. While this is effective in many circumstances, people who have asthma may find it very helpful. Stress is a well-known cause of asthma episodes, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Researchers examined whether HRV biofeedback could shield asthmatics from stress-related airway constriction in a study that was published in April 2019 in Respiration Physiology and Neurobiology. After completing a demanding three-part exam in which they had to read color names as soon as possible, participants underwent a single HRV biofeedback session. Spirometry, a routine test used to evaluate how much air you inhale and exhale and how rapidly you do so, is a frequent procedure used to assess lung function after a stressful test, according to the Mayo Clinic. They discovered that after receiving HRV biofeedback, asthma sufferers’ spirometry scores greatly improved.
However, additional study is still required.