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Using Biofeedback to Help With Symptoms and Side Effects

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a mind and body technique that helps patients increase awareness and control over certain body functions. Biofeedback can help patients manage disease symptoms, side effects, pain, and stress. It is a complementary therapy that can be used alongside traditional medical treatment.

With biofeedback, a health care provider uses special equipment to detect and monitor body signals such as breathing and heart rate. The patient watches on a screen to see how their body responds to different calming techniques. In time, the patient can recognize body functions and manage them without biofeedback.

Young teenage girl and child therapist during EEG neurofeedback session

Biofeedback can be used alongside traditional medical treatment to help patients manage symptoms, side effects, pain, and stress.

How a biofeedback session works

Biofeedback uses equipment to measure body functions such as:

  • Heart rate and heart beat pattern
  • Skin temperature
  • Muscle tension and activity
  • Breathing
  • Sweating
  • Brain wave activity

The health care provider places sensors on different areas of the body, depending on what is being measured. Sensors can be put on fingers, wrist, earlobes, scalp, or chest.

The patient looks at a screen to see how their body functions in real time. This can help them become more aware of certain body activities.

The health care provider uses these details to help the patient make small changes to produce desired results.

For example, a higher heart rate reading may indicate stress. The therapist may use a relaxation technique to reduce stress and lower heart rate. Or the therapist may measure muscle activity to help the patient relax certain muscles and lessen pain or discomfort.

With practice, patients learn to recognize how their body functions and use specific techniques to control their body’s responses.

Little girl meditating outdoors at park

In biofeedback, a therapist may use relaxation techniques to reduce stress and lower heart rate.

Basics of a biofeedback session

  • The health care provider explains what each sensor measures and how the signals appear on the screen.
  • The provider places sensors on the body to measure certain body activities.
  • The patient sees how their body responds to different tasks.
  • The provider instructs the patient on ways to change body responses using mental imagery, breathing, muscle relaxation, or other techniques.
 

Benefits of biofeedback

Biofeedback may help patients manage:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Headache and/or migraines
  • Sleep problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble going to the bathroom
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Raynaud's disease (a condition that affects blood supply to parts of the body)

Safety of biofeedback

Biofeedback is non-invasive and considered safe. But sensors could cause skin irritation. Biofeedback is most effective when taught by a certified care provider with advanced training.

Contact your care team with questions about biofeedback.

Questions to ask your care team about biofeedback

  • How can biofeedback help my child?
  • What age does my child need to be to have biofeedback therapy?
  • Is biofeedback safe?
  • Will insurance cover biofeedback?
  • Will I need a referral from my child’s care provider?
  • Where can I find a qualified biofeedback practitioner?

Key points about biofeedback

  • Biofeedback is a mind and body technique that teaches patients how to become more aware of and control body functions.
  • Biofeedback can help patients manage pain, stress, sleep problems, and side effects of disease or its treatment.
  • A care provider uses special equipment to monitor body signals through sensors placed on the body.
  • The goal is for patients to use the feedback from the sensors to learn how to control their body’s responses on their own.
  • Ask your care team about biofeedback for your child.


Reviewed: October 2023