What is biofeedback?
If you put your hand on the hot stove, you feel the heat and take it off. Your body has clever reactions to our environment. In this case, the activation of skin receptors. We remember that experience and are less likely to put our hand on the hot stove again. How smart!
With biofeedback, we measure body functions - like heart rate variability, breathing or brainwaves. We can actually visualise the body going into healthy and unhealthy states. For example, the heart speeding up and pounding when stressed, anxious and in a sympathetic dominance state.
By creating understanding and awareness, the body learns how to find that healthier, relaxed state.
Biofeedback is exactly that. Your body and brain learning to be healthier.
Imagine that biofeedback is your personal trainer. You improve your squat form after your personal training gives you some cues to straight up. Biofeedback provides cues so that you can improve your future performance and health.
How is biofeedback performed?
First, precise measurements are taken with specialised equipment. Once measured, awareness and control can be learnt. For example, your brainwaves are your brains fingerprint; they are unique in all of us. Some people have too much ‘fast brainwaves’, which may appear as migraines while others have too much ‘slow activity’ such as those with chronic pain (Walker 2011) (Pinheiro et al 2018). This electrical brain activity can be trained to be more "normal" or healthy. Same goes with your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle activation and much more.
Types of biofeedback offered at Body & Brain Centre:
- Neurofeedback or brainwave feedback
- Heart rate variability
- Thermal biofeedback
- Muscle biofeedback (also EMG biofeedback)
Neurofeedback Brainwave Training
This type of therapy is also called EEG Biofeedback or Neurofeedback.
Brainwaves occur at various frequencies. Some are fast, and others are slow. They are given names according to their speed: delta (the slowest), theta, alpha, beta and gamma (the fastest).
Your brain can change. This occurs through an incredible scientific process called neuroplasticity. Taking advantage of this, we can change the brain for the best. To balance the brainwaves. To reduce symptoms. To make life easier.
With feedback and learning, you’ll train your brainwaves. Neurofeedback is pain-free, non-invasive and often a relaxing process.
What are the different brainwaves?
Delta brainwaves are very slow but big waves seen in deep, restorative sleep. These can also be associated with daytime drowsiness or strokes (Slater & Steier 2012) (Wu et al. 2016).
Theta waves occur with daydreaming or the in-between sleep-wake state. It’s seen when the mind goes wandering off and we zone out, losing awareness to the world around us. Also with meditation.
Too much slow waves can be seen with fibromyalgia, concussions & head injuries, ADHD/ADD and developmental delays (Pinheiro et al 2018) (Kaltiainen et al 2018) (Fallon et al. 2018 (Papagiannopoulou & Lagopoulos 2016) (Ianof & Anghinah 2017). It can result in poor concentration, hyperactivity and impaired memory function.
Alpha are distinctive loopy waves. They are the relaxed and disengaged state waiting to respond when required. Like sitting in the classroom listening, but not actively engaging. They come about when you close your eyes and picture a peaceful scene.
Too much alpha can be seen in anxiety (Knyazev et al 2004). On the other hand, low alpha levels are seen with fibromyalgia (Villafaina et al 2019). Slow alpha can be seen with neuropathic pain (Vuckovic et al 2018a) (Vuckovic et al 2018b). Alpha asymmetry between the left and the right hemispheres can be seen with anxiety & depression (Palmiero & Piccardi 2017).
Beta brainwaves are small, fast and associated with mental & intellectual activity. It’s a relaxed but focused alertness. Excessive beta activity is seen with anxious and tense behaviours, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (Roohi-Azizi et al. 2017) (Kamaradova et al. 2018). Excessive amounts of beta activity can be also seen in those with migraines (Walker, 2011).
Gamma activity is associated with intensely focused attention and assists the brain in combining information from different parts of the brain.
These are generalisations for an educational perspective. Each set of symptoms can have a variety of brainwave patterns - and "normal" varies too.
What is EEG Guided Neurofeedback?
Electrodes are stuck to specific areas on your, or your child’s, scalp and ears. Just like putting a stethoscope on your chest to listen to your heart. These electrodes ‘listen’ to the brainwaves.
Then high-technological equipment does complex equations and calculations whilst your practitioner interprets the results. You’ll hear and see instantaneous feedback with how well your brain is training. This instant feedback helps the brain to learn more efficient brainwave patterns.
What do I have to do?
You’ll have little recording electrodes stuck on your scalp or ears. Electrodes record the brain waves and do not give you any zaps or any other sensation. They will merely sit there.
You just sit there and relax watching a DVD or play a video game using your brainwaves to control it. This makes it an easy therapy for both young kids and adults alike.
Your practitioner will set goal brainwave patterns to best help with your symptoms. When you are doing well, you’ll see and hear rewards in the game or video you are watching. You won’t receive this feedback when you are not achieving the ideal brainwave patterns. This helps your brain learn and change according to neuroplasticity.
How does it work?
You’ll literally be retraining and reconditioning your brain through a process called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the fancy neuro-psychological term for the brain connecting a reward or punishment to a certain activity to either increase or decrease the likelihood of doing that again.
Just like putting your hand on the hot stove. Once you've burnt yourself once, you are less likely to do that again. You learn from experience.
Another, albeit silly example, is if I try a new brand of chocolate and I don’t like the taste, I’m far less likely to buy it again. If I buy another dessert and love it, I’m more likely to get that one again. That delicious taste is the ‘reward’ so that I’m more likely to take the same action again.
Is there any radiation?
No. There’s no radiation. Nothing is emitted from the devices. They are just recording like a stethoscope.
Does it hurt?
No, it doesn’t hurt. You will sit with a couple of electrodes stuck to your head and watch a computer screen or listen to sounds.
You may feel a bit spaced out, extra alert or more relaxed after the session depending on what brainwaves and parts of the brain are being targeted. Occasionally a headache, fatigue or dizziness may be noted as well. This will be explained to you prior to your sessions by your practitioner so that you know what to expect.
Neurofeedback sessions are used alongside our Neuro-rehabilitation, QEEG Functional Brain Scans, Counselling, Meditation and other services.
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback
Heart Rate Variability, or HRV, is an easy way to test and train the balance of your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
The sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ reaction is responsible for increasing heart rate, muscle tension and blood sugar levels. The opposite is the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ system. The calm state that we should be in the majority of the time.
HRV training helps pain, gut function and mental health.
What is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. The time between the beats can be regular or irregular. A healthy response is to have some variation to be able to ability to adapt to changes (such as stress or pain) and make us more resilient.
After undertaking a comprehensive assessment, we are able to determine the training protocol specifically for you. You’ll then perform games and exercises that are specific to you, not just anyone.
We couple these individualised games with home advice and exercises to promote long-lasting change. We incorporate heart rate variability into our counselling and neuro-rehabilitation sessions or Brain-Training programs whilst working alongside our dietary, acupuncture and meditative services.
In a stress state, the body cleverly conserves energy and protects our vital organs. Diverting blood away from the fingers and toes, keeps the core warm and oxygenated.
Cold hands and feet can be a sign that your body is in a stressed state. We can remedy this anxious state by warming up the hands. But how do you warm up the hands without putting on gloves or in front of a fire? How can you get your body calm to restore gentle blood flow back to the extremities?
That's where thermal biofeedback comes in.
Using a specifically designed stress thermometer, you can practice techniques to warm your hands and become your own internally-powered heater!
What can Thermal Biofeedback Help with?
Thermal biofeedback may be helpful for:
- Anxiety and stress
- Peripheral circulation in diabetes
- Raynaud’s Disease
- Arthritis pain intensity & avoidance behaviours
- Headaches & migraines
What does some of the research say?
A research review found that almost 70% of children with headaches reported that their pain halved at least, using thermal biofeedback (Hermann & Blanchard 2002).
Other research paper looked at adults with migraines. They showed that using thermal and muscle biofeedback with relaxation therapies was just as effective as some migraine medications (Kaushik et al. 2005).
It isn’t new. Research dating back to the1980s shows thermal biofeedback helping Raynaud's Disease - where there's decreased blood flow to the extremities (Peterson & Vorhies 1983). After submersion in iced water, the hands of whose had performed thermal biofeedback returned to baseline in just 6 minutes on average. Before doing any training, the average was 40 minutes.
Thermal biofeedback may be used with other forms of biofeedback, with counselling or as a standalone therapy.
Muscle tension biofeedback is also called surface electromyography (sEMG biofeedback). It can be used to reduce the tension in chronically tight muscles like shoulders, jaw or hips. It can also help bring attention to your muscles to ensure that your left and right side are activating evenly - that you are symmetrically using your body.
Muscle biofeedback is typically used within Chiropractic sessions. It may be used with other techniques such as massage, rehabilitation exercises, taping or laser therapy as well as traditional chiropractic treatments.
Related articles you'll enjoy
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