June 2 2016 by Ray Sahelian, M.D. (free health newsletter)
Biofeedback refers to procedures for learning control over the body's physiological responses with the help of electronic instruments and the services of a certified professional. It is a complementary and alternative medicine approach often used with other therapeutic procedures to enhance health in general ways, for example, to achieve deep muscle relaxation to counter stress reactions; or in specific ways, for example, to strengthen muscles in order to treat incontinence. It may work in many situations, but are there simpler and cheaper ways to deal with some of these issues naturally without the expense and time that biofeedback treatment requires?
Biofeedback training is commonly used to train physiological responses of which a person is not aware (such as, heart rate or hand temperature) or for which control has been lost due to, disease or accidents (such as, muscle movement or brain functions).
Biofeedback tries to teach a person to control automatic body functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and even brain waves. By learning to control these functions, a person may be able to improve his or her medical condition, relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, or improve physical or mental performance.
Biofeedback Equipment - Machine
Electronic biofeedback instruments - such as EEG biofeedback - are connected to sensors on the body record and display continuous information (feedback) to a patient about the nature of a response to be learned.
When Is is this
form of therapy helpful
Biofeedback may be helpful in several conditions including urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, constipation, prostate cancer surgery. Some patients with cerebral palsy may also benefit.
J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015. The efficacy of surface electromyographic biofeedback assisted stretching for the treatment of chronic low back pain: A case-series. A third of participants noticed some benefits.
Biofeedback and Urinary Incontinence
Children with bladder problems may be successfully treated without medication. Dr. Ubirajara Barroso Jr. and colleagues from the Federal University of Bahia, Bahiana School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Federal University of Sao Paulo investigated whether biofeedback and electrical stimulation can be used as an across-the-board treatment for various types of lower urinary tract dysfunction. They found that biofeedback, a technique in which a person learns how to exert conscious control over the pelvic muscles involved in regulating urination, was useful in treating various types of urinary dysfunction. Also, mild electrical stimulation of certain nerves was helpful for some conditions. Lower urinary tract dysfunction, characterized by urge syndrome or urge urinary incontinence, when a person cannot control the flow of urine once they feel the need to urinate, is traditionally treated with medication, which has been shown to reduce symptoms. Yet, at least one previously published study found that less than 30 percent of children are completely cured of their symptoms by medication, and many experience side effects such as dry mouth or constipation. Many patients with voiding disturbances have been treated effectively with biofeedback, yet those with urge syndrome continue to be treated with medication. BJU International,, 2006.
Biofeedback is far more effective than laxatives in relieving constipation caused by inappropriate contraction or inability to relax the pelvic floor muscles during defecation -- what doctors call "pelvic floor dyssynergia." In a conducted at the University of Verona in Italy, the effects of five weekly 30-minute biofeedback sessions with one of the most effective laxatives (polyethylene glycol) plus constipation prevention counseling. Biofeedback training included teaching subjects to strain more effectively, to coordinate expulsion efforts with their breathing and to relax pelvic floor muscles. The study involved 109 patients (all but five of whom were women) with constipation due to chronic severe pelvic floor dyssynergia who had failed attempts to relieve constipation with 20 grams per day of fiber plus enemas or suppositories up to twice weekly. Biofeedback was effective in providing a long lasting improvement in constipation symptoms and anorectal function in the majority of patients. Continuous laxatives, on the other hand, were marginally effective in a minority of patients. Pelvic floor dyssynergia is one of the most disabling subtypes of constipation. Gastroenterology 2006.
Comments: Prune juice is an inexpensive and simple way to relieve problems with constipation.
Biofeedback Therapy and Prostate Cancer
For men undergoing prostate removal for prostate cancer, biofeedback training before the surgery reduces the duration and severity of urinary incontinence after the procedure. Behavioral training has been shown to decrease incontinence that persists following prostate surgery. Dr. Kathryn L. Burgio and colleagues from the University of Alabama at Birmingham evaluated the effectiveness of pre-op biofeedback to hasten the recovery of urinary control, decrease the severity of incontinence, and improve the quality of life in the 6 months following prostate removal. The intervention consisted of one session of biofeedback-assisted behavioral training, in which men learned bladder muscle control and received instructions for muscle exercises. A rectal balloon probe measured and provided immediate visual feedback of rectal pressure and bladder muscle control. Of the 51 men in the biofeedback group, 70 percent reported that they were still doing the exercises they learned preoperatively at the 6-month follow-up. The time taken to achieve continence in the biofeedback-training group hovered around 3.5 months. On the other hand, fewer than half of the 51 men in the comparison group achieved continence by the 6-month follow-up. At 6 months, men in the biofeedback group reported an average of 73 days with no leakage, compared with 54 days reported by men in the comparison group. Severe or continual leakage was still present in nearly 20 percent of comparison subjects at the 6-month mark, the researchers note, compared to 6 percent of those in the biofeedback group. Journal of Urology, 2006.