What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During a biofeedback session, a therapist attaches electrical sensors to different parts of your body. These sensors monitor your body's physiological state, such as brain waves, skin temperature or muscle tension. This information is fed back to you via cues, such as a beeping sound or a flashing light. The feedback teaches you to change or control your body's physiological reactions by changing your thoughts, emotions or behavior. In turn, this can help the condition for which you sought treatment.

For instance, biofeedback can pinpoint tense muscles that are causing headaches. You then learn how to invoke positive physical changes in your body, such as relaxing those specific muscles, to reduce your pain. The ultimate goal with biofeedback is to learn to use these techniques at home on your own.

A typical biofeedback session lasts 30 to 60 minutes. The length and number of sessions are determined by your condition and how quickly you learn to control your physical responses. You may need a series of 10 sessions or as many as 50, which can make it more expensive and time-consuming. Biofeedback is often not covered by insurance.

Types of biofeedback

Your therapist may use several different biofeedback techniques. Determining the technique that's right for you depends on your health problems and goals. Biofeedback techniques include:

  • Electromyography (EMG) biofeedback. This type gives you information about your body's muscle tension so that you can practice relaxation.
  • Temperature (thermal) biofeedback. Sensors attached to your fingers or feet measure your skin temperature. Because your temperature often drops when you're under stress, a low reading can prompt you to begin relaxation techniques.
  • Galvanic skin response training. Sensors measure the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on your skin, alerting you to anxiety.
  • Heart rate variability biofeedback. This type of biofeedback helps you control your heart rate in an effort to improve blood pressure, lung function, and stress and anxiety.

Biofeedback devices

You can receive biofeedback training in physical therapy clinics, medical centers and hospitals. But a growing number of biofeedback devices and programs are being marketed for home use. Some of these are hand-held portable devices, while others connect to your computer. You can try different devices until you find one that works for you, or ask your doctor for advice. Check with your health insurance company to see what costs, if any, associated with biofeedback devices are covered.

Be aware that some products marketed as biofeedback devices may not be, and that not all biofeedback practitioners are reputable. If a manufacturer or biofeedback practitioner claims that a biofeedback device can assess your organs for disease, find impurities in your blood, cure your condition or send signals into your body, check with your doctor before using it, as it may not be legitimate.

Jan. 26, 2013