Imagine having hands so sensitive to cold that each winter they would swell and split open, so that just grabbing a carton of milk out of the refrigerator makes them whiten and throb with pain. Then imagine learning to raise the temperature in your hands so that you could hold the carton of milk and do it without any pain. This is an example of what biofeedback training is attempting to accomplish for certain medical problems, such as Raynaud's disease, a circulatory disorder that can cause its victims extreme discomfort and debilitation. For Raynaud's disease, this therapy has not been found to be clearly effective, but there may be benefits for some other conditions.
Currently, incomplete but encouraging evidence suggests that biofeedback may indeed offer at least modest benefits for a variety of conditions, including anxiety , low back pain , insomnia , and female stress incontinence. There is mixed evidence as to whether biofeedback helps with migraine and tension headaches.
The major advantages of biofeedback are that it is noninvasive, has virtually no side effects, and is possibly effective over the long-term. The major disadvantage for some is that it requires effort, commitment, and involvement on the part of patients.
How Biofeedback Works
Every time you scratch an itch, grab a snack when you're hungry, or use the bathroom when you feel the urge, you are responding to biofeedback cues from your body about your physiological state.
With biofeedback training, however, you are cued by sensors attached to your body. These sensors measure heart rate, the temperature of your extremities, the muscle tension in specific muscle groups, or, in neurofeedback, the kinds of brain waves you are emitting. This information is conveyed by visual displays or sounds. Using imagery and mental exercises, you learn to control these functions, using the feedback provided by the sensors as a gauge of success. With practice, you can learn to "tune in" without instrumentation and control these functions