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Using Biofeedback to Help With Symptoms and Side Effects

Biofeedback is a mind and body technique that teaches patients how to control certain physiological responses such as breathing and heart rate. The goal of biofeedback is to increase awareness and control over certain body functions. In other words, biofeedback can help children become the “boss” of their bodies and is a way to make the mind-body connection real and visible for kids. Biofeedback training can help patients manage disease symptoms, stress, and side effects.

Biofeedback helps kids learn to be the boss of their bodies. It is a way to make the mind-body connection real and visible for children. The process can actually be fun, as we get to use things like games, puzzles, and music to teach the body and mind to work together!

Dr. Jenn Allen, pediatric psychologist

Benefits of biofeedback

During cancer treatment, biofeedback may help patients manage:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Headache and/or migraines
  • Sleep problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Raynaud's disease (a condition that affects blood supply to parts of the body, which can be caused by some types of cancer)

How biofeedback works

Biofeedback uses special equipment to detect and monitor physiological signals through sensors placed on the body, usually on the skin. Depending on what is measured, sensors are placed in different areas such as fingers, wrist, earlobes, scalp, or chest. Patients are able to see the results on a screen in real time so that they become more aware of specific body activities. Through practice, children can learn to control these functions.

Biofeedback sensors measure vital functions such as:

  • Heart rate and heart beat pattern
  • Skin temperature
  • Muscle tension and activity
  • Breathing
  • Sweating
  • Brain wave activity (also known as neurofeedback)

This is an interactive process. The therapist uses this information to help the patient focus on making small changes in the body and mind to produce specific 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, results of electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle activity, could be used to help the patient relax certain muscles that could be causing pain or discomfort.

The ultimate goal is for patients to use the feedback from the sensors to learn techniques to gain control over body responses and improve health.

Basics of a biofeedback session

  • The therapist explains what each sensor measures and how the signals appear on the screen.
  • Sensors are put on the skin to measure specific body activities.
  • Using different tasks, the patient sees how the signals respond.
  • The therapist instructs the patient on ways to alter body responses using mental imagery, breathing, muscle relaxation, or other techniques.

With repeated sessions and practice, patients learn to recognize physiological changes in their body and how to use specific strategies to control physiological responses.


Safety of biofeedback

Biofeedback is non-invasive and considered safe. However, sensors could cause skin irritation for patients undergoing certain kinds of treatment. Biofeedback is most effective when taught by a certified provider with advanced training. Patients and families interested in biofeedback are encouraged to discuss it with their care team.

Reviewed: June 2018