Biofeedback

What Is It?

Biofeedback tries to teach you to control automatic body functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and even brain waves. By learning to control these functions, you may be able to improve your medical condition, relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, or improve your physical or mental performance (sometimes called peak performance training).

During biofeedback training, sensors attached to your body detect changes in your pulse, skin temperature, muscle tone, brain-wave pattern or some other physiological function. These changes trigger a signal a sound, a flashing light, a change in pattern on a video screen that tells you that the physiological change has occurred. Gradually, with the help of your biofeedback therapist, you can learn to alter the signal by taking conscious control of your body's automatic body functions.

What It's Used For

Although biofeedback has been used to treat a variety of health problems, there is little scientific evidence that it works for most of them. There are exceptions, however. Multiple studies show that biofeedback may be effective for certain types of urinary incontinence, diabetic fecal incontinence, anal pain related to excessive muscle contractions and constipation caused by problems with the muscles in the anus. Increasingly, biofeedback has been studied in other conditions with positive results. These include Raynaud's phenomenon, tension headache and fibromyalgia.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »