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Pain management health centre

Biofeedback

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have fibromyalgia. It tells you about biofeedback, a treatment used for fibromyalgia. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don’t know. There isn’t enough good-quality research to say.

What is it?

Biofeedback is a therapy that uses technology to show you how you can control your body with your mind. The aim is to help you control your pain by learning to relax your muscles and calm your breathing and heart rate.

It uses electrical monitoring equipment to demonstrate how fast your heart is beating (heart rate variability biofeedback) or how tense your muscles are (electromyograph biofeedback). The monitoring equipment makes beeps, or flashes lights, to show how much electrical activity it’s picking up.

You learn to control your heart rate or relax your muscles through breathing and relaxation exercises. When you do this, the beeps or lights get slower or quieter, so you can see what effect you are having on your heart or muscles. [61]

Your therapist will help you see how relaxing muscles or slowing your breathing can have an effect on your body. For example, if you are learning to relax your muscles, the sensors will emit a different coloured light, or a different sound, when you clench or relax your muscles.

You might have this therapy along with other treatments, like exercise, relaxation therapy, or medicines.

How can it help?

We’re not sure whether it can help. The research doesn’t give us a clear picture. Some studies showed people found biofeedback helped reduce their pain more than education about fibromyalgia or sham biofeedback (where the sensors don’t react to changes in the body as they should). [62] [63]

But biofeedback doesn’t seem to work as well as exercise therapy. [62] And in some studies, it didn’t help at all. [64]

How does it work?

The idea of biofeedback is that you can use the sensors to learn how to relax your body, and see how you can control your body’s reactions by using your mind. This might help you relax tense muscles, which could be making your pain worse. Also, seeing how you can control your body might help you feel more in control of your illness.

Can it be harmful?

There’s no evidence that biofeedback can be harmful.

How good is the research on biofeedback?

There’s not much good-quality research to show whether biofeedback works to treat fibromyalgia.

We found one summary of the research looking at all types of mind-body therapies, including biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation, and guided imagery. [62]

It included two studies of biofeedback but one was too small (six people) to be reliable. The remaining study of 119 people showed biofeedback seemed to help people’s pain more than learning about fibromyalgia. But it didn’t work as well as exercise. [65]

We found three other studies of biofeedback. One study of 30 people showed it worked better for pain than sham biofeedback. [63] Another study of 64 people showed it improved pain immediately after treatment, but not a week later, and a third study of 143 people showed it didn’t work any better than either exercise or no treatment. [64] [66]

Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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