The mind can play an important role in treating headaches and other types of chronic pain. Biofeedback helps people recognize and control the tension and stress that can fuel pain. Specifically, it can teach you to release the tension in your muscles and improve your circulation, two steps that can significantly ease many types of pain.
What is biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a tool that helps people gain more control over their bodies. It works by translating subtle physical changes into easy-to-read signals. Through biofeedback, patients can learn how their state of mind affects their circulation, tension, and pain. In the end, they often feel more relaxed and more in control. Biofeedback is often used in combination with other relaxation and stress-reducing approaches, including exercise, meditation, or physical therapy.
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How does it work?
Biofeedback works by translating subtle physical changes into easy-to-read signals. A session starts when a therapist attaches sensors to your skin, usually a thermistor that measures the temperature of a finger and/or an electrode that registers the tension in sore muscles. These sensors don’t just spit out numbers.
The electrodes, for instance, may be hooked up to a pair of headphones that translate tension into sound; the thermistor can be attached to a flashy computer-generated graph.
The therapist will then help you relax, perhaps by asking you to imagine a quiet, peaceful place or by teaching you a breathing technique. As your mind becomes calm, the temperature in your finger may rise from, say, 88 degrees to 94 degrees, a sign that your circulation is improving.
The readings from the electrodes may drop from perhaps seven microvolts to three microvolts, indicating that your muscles are becoming relaxed. You would normally overlook such changes, but the biofeedback system makes them impossible to ignore.
Thanks to biofeedback, the connection between your brain and your body becomes a two-way street. You suddenly become aware of your ability to enhance your blood flow and release tension, actions that once seemed beyond your control.
And after 10 or 12 sessions, this ability becomes so ingrained that you can call on it whenever you need pain relief. You won’t have headphones or blinking lights to guide you when you relax at home, but the subsiding pain will give you all the feedback you need.
How effective is biofeedback?
Pain centers around the country incorporate biofeedback into their treatments, often in concert with