Biofeedback may be a consistently validated training technique used to gain control of involuntary functions of the brain and body. With evidence showing efficacy for a wide range of conditions it may as a result becoming an attractive first choice for many individuals in comparison to other traditional therapies.
Biofeedback may be a process, which enables an individual to learn how to alter physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and muscular performance. During the process specific technology provides the individual with information usually unavailable to the senses, in which a particular biomedical variable is measured and displayed using unique techniques. Physiological activity such as brain activity, heart function, breathing, muscle strength and skin temperature may be measured. Fitness watches which measure heart rate, variability and other physiological attributes may be considered a biofeedback device, which feedback information in real time to a user, an example of a direct feedback method. When receiving this information controlled changes in psychology, emotions and behaviour support the transformation of physiological states. The control of these changes may become a long term ability without the use of an instrument.
The goal of biofeedback is to reduce sympathetic arousal including heart rate and variability, breathing rate, skin temperature and conductance and therefore a process of active training for an individual rather than a treatment. Transformed feedback methods use measurements to control a visual display, auditory signals or tactile feedback; an example is exercise on virtual reality technologies immersing an individual in the process. These methods provide potential therapeutic effects as individuals may develop an ability to control physical processes usually considered automatic.
The two main types of biofeedback use physiological and biomechanical measurements. Physiological measures derive from the neuromuscular system, respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system whereas biochemical feedback includes measurements of posture, movements and force. The majority of research into biofeedback aimed to assess whether it may alleviate limb deficits in neurological conditions and this research utilises both types.
To measure cell and brain cell electrical activity two technologies may be commonly utilised. Surface electromyography (sEMG) records muscle activity through the skin and may be used to treat conditions like headaches, aches, spasmodic torticollis and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. An example of this may be training to release tightness in muscles which then alleviate headaches and occur with reduced frequency. Electroencephalography (EEG) used for neuro-feedback alleviates ADHD, epilepsy and other mental health conditions. A new study which suggests children may also use neuro-feedback to gain control over emotions, by regulating activity in a brain region called the ‘bilateral insula’ after responding to brain images from an MRI projector. After being instructed to reduce or increase activation all children increased insula activity, despite being challenged to reduce it. The team found the entire emotional network may be regulated by these strategies.
Biofeedback may now be a first choice for the remedy of some conditions and an exceptional complementary therapy in others. Comprehensive documents now record the effectiveness for particular conditions. It may have the highest efficacy with the following conditions (level 5), urinary incontinence, many mental and neurological conditions including headache and epilepsy, hypertension, Raynaud’s syndrome and constipation (level 4). Level 3 conditions which have a probable efficacy are arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism and brain conditions. Other level 2 efficacies are supported by at least one quality study and include; asthma, autism, cerebral palsy, coronary artery conditions, stroke and tinnitus. Additionally, it may be effective for developing sports performance.
With the wide ranging application of biofeedback, its efficacy is based on its reliance on real time monitoring of physiological attributes and gaining control of these through a form of training. The method may have great benefits to an individual with any of the studied conditions, where biofeedback may have proven efficacy and additionally prevent the use of unsuitable therapies. The research may illuminate why a therapeutic effect occurs and may aid the future explanation of the functions of human biology.
What might biologists learn from biofeedback about the functioning of the body?