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Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a technique that measures bodily functions in order to help control them.

Biofeedback measures:

  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing
  • Heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Skin temperature

By watching these measurements, you can learn how to alter these functions by relaxing or holding pleasant images in your mind.

Electrodes measure your heart rate, blood pressure, or other function. A monitor displays the results for both you and the trained practitioner to see. While the practitioner describes stressful situations and guides you through relaxation techniques, you can see how your heart rate and blood pressure change in response to being stressed or relaxed.

Biofeedback teaches you how to control and change these bodily functions. By doing so, you feel more relaxed and may be able to help treat such conditions as:

  • Chronic pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Tension and migraine headaches
  • Urinary incontinence

Biofeedback for Headaches

Biofeedback and relaxation training. Drug therapy for migraine is often combined with biofeedback and relaxation training. Biofeedback refers to a technique that can give people better control over such body function indicators as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain waves. Thermal biofeedback allows a patient to consciously raise hand temperature. Some patients who are able to increase hand temperature can reduce the number and intensity of migraines. The mechanisms underlying these self-regulation treatments are being studied by research scientists.

"To succeed in biofeedback," says a headache specialist, "you must be able to concentrate and you must be motivated to get well."

A patient learning thermal biofeedback wears a device which transmits the temperature of an index finger or hand to a monitor. While the patient tries to warm his hands, the monitor provides feedback either on a gauge that shows the temperature reading or by emitting a sound or beep that increases in intensity as the temperature increases. The patient is not told how to raise hand temperature, but is given suggestions such as "Imagine your hands feel very warm and heavy."

"I have a good imagination," says one headache sufferer who traded in her medication for thermal biofeedback. The technique decreased the number and severity of headaches she experienced.

In another type of biofeedback called electromyographic or EMG training, the patient learns to control muscle tension in the face, neck, and shoulders.

Either kind of biofeedback may be combined with relaxation training, during which patients learn to relax the mind and body.

Biofeedback can be practiced at home with a portable monitor. But the ultimate goal of treatment is to wean the patient from the machine. The patient can then use biofeedback anywhere at the first sign of a headache.

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