Chronic Pain Relief Using Biofeedback Therapy
"...Pain. In its most benign form, it warns us that something isn't quite right, that we should take medicine or see a doctor. At its worst, however, pain robs us of our productivity, our well-being, and, for many of us suffering from extended illness, our very lives. Pain is a complex perception that differs enormously among individual patients…
“Today, pain has become the universal disorder, a serious and costly public health issue, and a challenge for family, friends, and health care providers who must give support to the individual suffering from the physical as well as the emotional consequences of pain.”
Biofeedback and Relaxation Training
In the late 1960’s, Alyce and Elmer Green, PhD, of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas verified that learning to warm the fingertips, supported by measurements from biofeedback instruments, relieved migraine headaches. In 1971, Dr. Robert Prall went to Menninger’s to learn about the new technology. Two years later, he taught Vicki Jones, LCSW, Sr-Fellow-BCIA, the procedures, and she successfully gained control of her life-long headaches.
Different kinds of biofeedback training with relaxation training and/or medication. Many patients end up trading their medications for Finger Tip Warming, using Thermal Biofeedback, after it decreases the number and severity of their headaches. Usually, after a while patients no longer need biofeedback instruments because they have internalized the training. This means they respond much less to stress. Biofeedback Training works much like any skill. With practice, the process becomes so automatic that patients do it without thinking.
Biofeedback is a “technique that can give people better control over such body function indicators as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain waves,” according to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Relaxation Training teaches mind-body quieting, in which people relax their mind and their body.
At Smarter Way, we teach our clients to use the training they learned to reduce pain at the start. This is how we structure our sessions with patients and why we offer pre-recorded guided relaxation CDs.
Fighting Chronic Headaches with Biofeedback
The NINDS’ Migraine Information Page says, “Stress management strategies, such as exercise, relaxation, biofeedback, and other therapies designed to help limit discomfort, may also reduce the occurrence and severity of migraine attacks.” “Thermal Biofeedback allows a patient to consciously raise hand temperature. Some patients who are able to increase hand [or finger] temperature can reduce the number and intensity of migraines. The mechanisms underlying these self-regulation treatments are being studied by research scientists.
“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.’
“In another type of biofeedback called electromyographic or EMG Training, the patient learns to control muscle tension in the face, neck, and shoulders.”
At Smarter Way, we often use what’s called progressive muscle relaxation therapy.
Stress Management Therapy “is a cognitive behavioral approach that teaches people to recognize and manage early headache signs, cope with pain and address stress-generating issues, and possibly prevent headache.”
While it may take several sessions for patients in Biofeedback Training to learn how to combat daily headaches, studies have shown that “combined drug and behavioral therapy produced a clinically significant reduction (≥50%) in the Headache Index for more patients than did either therapy alone. Patients who took placebos throughout the trial did not report any reduction in headache activity.”
Biofeedback Therapy is an incredibly effective tool for relieving pain as well as other disorders such as stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. However, it is a treatment that requires participation and motivation on the part of the patient. In other words, the limits of Biofeedback Therapy align with the limits of the individual. As the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases points out, “Patients must learn to recognize the body's signals, and know when to stop or slow down. This will prevent the pain caused by overexertion. Although pain can make it difficult to sleep, getting proper sleep is important for managing…pain. If you have trouble sleeping, you may find that relaxation techniques, stress reduction, and biofeedback can help, as can timing medications to provide maximum pain relief through the night.”
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy is a technique in which “patients are taught to first tense and then relax individual muscle groups. Finally [bold ours] the patient tries to relax his or her whole body. Many people imagine a peaceful scene – such as lying on the beach or by a beautiful lake.”
"Biofeedback works much like any skill.
With practice, the process becomes so automatic that patients do it without thinking."
We all recognize the following description of pain from the introduction of The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s article “Pain: Hope Through Research” BioVicki@hotmail.com(713) 523-06282211 Norfolk Street, Suite 140Houston, TX 77098 For more information, click on the green, underlined text. Try it here.
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Please Note: All products and resources used on this site are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for treatment or consultation with your healthcare professional who is familiar with these technologies.