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The Hunger Project Bolen Report
Ohm Society
Biofeedback Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy

The word "biofeedback" was coined in the late 1969 to describe laboratory procedures developed in the 1940's which trained research subjects to alter brain wave activity, blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and other "autonomic" bodily functions not normally voluntarily controlled. Biofeedback is a training technique in which people are taught to improve their health and performance by using signals from their own bodies.

One commonly used device, for example, picks up electrical signals from the muscles and translates those signals into a detectable form such as a flashing light or a beeping sound. each time muscles become more tense. If one wants to relax tense muscles, one can focus on altering the flashing and/or beeping and thus the client learns to associate sensations from the muscle with actual levels of tension and develops a new, healthy habit of keeping muscles only as tense as is necessary for as long as necessary. After treatment, individuals are then able to repeat this response at will without being attached to biofeedback equipment.

Other biological functions which are commonly measured and used in similar way are skin temperature, heart rate, sweat gland activity, and brainwave activity. So, generally speaking, biofeedback machines detect a person's internal bodily functions with greater sensitivity and precision than the unassisted person can alone. This information is used to gauge and direct the progress of treatment.

Although most people initially viewed these practices with skepticism, researchers proved that many individuals could alter their involuntary responses by being "fed back" information either visual or auditory. Studies have shown that we have more control over so-called "involuntary" or "autonomic" body functions than we once thought possible. As a result, biofeedback can train individuals with techniques for living a healthier life, whether afflicted with a medical illness or not.

Some of the many health problems biofeedback can help are:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Incontinence
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
  • Raynaud's disease (a circulatory disorder that causes uncomfortably cold hands)
  • Epilepsy
  • Paralysis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Movement disorders

Biofeedback is an effective treatment for migraine and tension headaches among both children and adults. This has been proven by numerous controlled studies with follow-ups of up to 15 years. The American Association for Headache cites biofeedback as an acceptable treatment.

The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Consensus cites biofeedback as the primarytreatment for urinary incontinence, a condition affecting up to 30 percent of elderly people living independently and about 50 percent of patients in long-term care facilities. Illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or lupus, as well as strokes and prostrate surgery can cause incontinence.

Eighty percent of individuals with essential hypertension who underwent biofeedback training in one study reduced their prescription medications or no longer needed them at all, even after years of taking medication.

More than 700 groups worldwide are using EEG biofeedback (neurofeedback) for treatment of ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). Clinicians have reported that patients who experienced a 60 to 80 percent significant improvement in the condition and a marked reduction in medication requirements.

Studies on women with PMS have shown biofeedback can help relieve the symptoms. In more than 90 percent of children under the age of twelve with sleeping problems such as bed-wetting, recovery is expected within the first two months of biofeedback treatment. Therapists in several states, including Florida, Wisconsin and New Jersey have found that some spinal cord injury and chronic neuromuscular disease paralysis victims have been able to regain most of their muscular limb abilities after biofeedback training. This dramatic approach is not yet readily available in many states. The results, though they sometimes appear to be miracles, (i.e., helping people who have been told they will never walk or use their hands again, to walk or feed themselves) are really just the results of practical use of existing biofeedback technologies. Numerous studies have shown that people with panic and anxiety disorders who undertake biofeedback training gain significantly in their ability to control these states, to the point that these no longer interfere with their daily life.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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