Have you ever felt feverish and decided to go to bed with a hot bowl of soup? Does your preference for dessert depend on the numbers shown on your bathroom scale? Well, then you have been listening to your body! Depending upon the readings on the thermometer, you decided to opt for hot soup (which supplies fluids) and rest. The figures on your bathroom scales tell you whether you should take that extra serving of strawberry cake or not.
Well, then you are not new to biofeedback. Although you may not know it, you have been trying to ‘improve your health by reading the signals your body is sending you’. This is biofeedback. When doctors, physiotherapists and even ordinary people use signals from the patient’s body to decide the course of their treatment, they are relying on biofeedback.
In biofeedback, electronic instruments enable doctors to monitor the activities of the body – both physical as well as psychological. Clinicians have sensitive machines that can easily ‘see’ or ‘hear’ inside the bodies of patients. It is not uncommon to come across people who are very confused about their own symptoms, aches and pains. These machines can detect the internal activities of a person with far greater precision than the patient himself can.
For patients the ‘biofeedback machine’ acts like a kind of sixth-sense that guides them to the true workings of their bodies. According to the readings given by the machine the biofeedback therapist makes internal adjustments. This information is valuable and often proves crucial when it comes to choosing modes of treatment. The therapist is almost like a football coach, waiting on the sidelines and giving instructions to patients on how to improve performance.
When biofeedback first made its appearance, doctors had high hopes – probably these were too high to be realistic. They hoped that biofeedback would one day give us so much control over our bodies that we could simply ‘will’ ourselves to good health. A patient could then avoid taking medicines.
Today, scientists and doctors have more reasonable and realistic expectations. Biofeedback can help in the treatment of many diseases. It can drastically reduce post-operative pain. Disorders of the digestive system, cardiac arrhythmias, blood pressure variations, epilepsy, migraine and stress-related head aches and paralysis – these can be treated using biofeedback.
Biofeedback often aims at changing habitual reactions to incidents that trigger stress. Stress and our reaction to it is often the underlying cause of pain or disease. With most patients, biofeedback is a kind of skill training where patients listen in on their bodies and learn techniques that help them to avert stress or pain.
Physicians, psychiatrists, dentists, physiotherapists and even nurses are increasingly relying on biofeedback. Biofeedback produces amazing results when it is combined with other treatment techniques. Since it is a non-invasive and painless process, biofeedback is a valuable option. Patients can be taught about factors that trigger attacks (as in the case of epilepsy and migraine) and what they have to do to manage, reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
Biofeedback is very effective for chronic benign problems. With this therapy, long term medications become a thing of the past and mid-night visits to the emergency room become a rarity. What’s best of all – NO more side effects!