G. Frank Lowlis
Although biofeedback is a relatively new medical therapy, people have been essentially practicing forms of biofeedback for generations. When my neighbor taught himself how to wiggle his ears while looking into a mirror, he was using the mirror as a source of feedback while practicing body control. Dancers also learn to achieve various movements by monitoring their actions through mirrors. Biofeedback, the current technology for assessing physiologic responses, functions like a highly sophisticated mirror.
Sports-related research helps identify the processes leading to the development of specific physical skills. Many of the world's spiritual practices teach that, with disciplined concentration, physical changes can be achieved that enhance health of both the mind and body. Biofeedback is a way of applying these same kinds of skills to achieve optimal health in specific physiologic systems. Cardiovascular changes in blood pressure, alterations in brain waves, and specific muscle groups can be controlled.
The most exciting outcome of biofeedback is the empowerment of the individual to teach himself or herself internal control. With the application of biofeedback techniques and continued practice, lifetime health improvements can be the result.
Biofeedback is a therapeutic model for medical care, enabling patients to participate in their own healing. It teaches them to regulate their physiologic functions in healthy ways. Biofeedback allows immediate monitoring of skin temperature, muscle tension, brain waves, and skin conductance. The type of feedback will depend on the disease state and which physiologic parameter is most closely related to symptoms of the disease. The patient learns to control these functions in subtle ways, thereby readjusting their psychologic and physiologic responses.
Patients can also learn to change their reactions to stressful or challenging events, creating more balanced behavioral responses. Biofeedback offers patients a way to develop more wholesome lifestyles.
Biofeedback has been used to successfully treat migraine headache pain, low back pain, temporomandibular joint pain, neuromuscular and gait dysfunctions, incontinence, hypertension, and Raynoud's disease. Biofeedback is also used as a research strategy.
There are indications and contraindications for biofeedback interventions. Nonetheless, the possibilities for gaining such physiologic control are limited only by the advances of technology, therapist creativity, and patient motivation and interest.