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Biofeedback therapy

Biofeedback is a non-invasive treatment the NHS may recommend for conditions, including constipation, urinary incontinence and faecal incontinence.

Special sensors are used to check what the body or specific muscles are doing and a device gives feedback to the person. For incontinence, for example, sensors check how well a person is doing pelvic floor exercises by how well muscles are squeezed. The biofeedback can help motivate a person to improve the technique.

Biofeedback can help a person gain more control over some of the body's functions that they don’t usually think about. Biofeedback may also help with migraine headaches, chronic pain, incontinence and high blood pressure.

The idea behind biofeedback is that, by harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what's going on inside your body, you may gain more control over your health.

How does biofeedback therapy work?

Researchers aren't exactly sure how or why biofeedback works. They do know that biofeedback promotes relaxation, which can help relieve a number of conditions that are related to stress. But there is limited research on this treatment.

During a biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin. These electrodes send signals to a monitor, which displays a sound, flash of light, or image that represents your heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweating or muscle activity.

When you're under stress, these functions change. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your blood pressure rises, you start to sweat, and your breathing speeds up. You can see these stress responses as they happen on the monitor, and then get immediate feedback as you try to stop them.

A biofeedback therapist helps you practise relaxation exercises, which you fine-tune to control different body functions. For example, you might use a relaxation technique to turn down the brainwaves that activate when you have a headache.

Several different relaxation exercises are used in biofeedback therapy, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation - alternately tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups
  • Guided imagery - concentrating on a specific image - such as the colour and texture of an orange - to focus your mind and make you feel more relaxed
  • Mindfulness meditation - focusing your thoughts and letting go of negative emotions

As you slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and ease muscle tension, you'll get instant feedback on the screen. Eventually you'll learn how control these functions on your own, without the biofeedback equipment.

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