University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Nicole Nisly, MD
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
First Published: 2004
Last Revised: January 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Biofeedback. The name alone sounds like something from a science fiction novel, but in reality, biofeedback is a practical alternative medicine used to treat several diseases.
According to Nicole Nisly, MD, head of UI Hospitals and Clinics Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic, biofeedback teaches you to control a function of the body that is normally automatically regulated. This includes functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.
Why would you want to control these functions if the body already does? "The purpose of learning biofeedback is to improve the balance of your nervous system, with increased relaxation and a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate," Nisly says. "By doing so, you can treat certain ailments by learning to control certain parts of the nervous system, which may have suffered an imbalance caused by stress."
When you are learning biofeedback, therapists attach sensors to your body providing instant feedback on a body function using a monitoring device. Your therapist will then help you to control the function by teaching you physical and mental exercises related to the feedback.
Using these techniques, some patients have lowered their blood pressure, gotten rid of headaches, and helped control certain forms of mental illness, all without using medications. Biofeedback also has been useful in treating disorders of the digestive system. Physical therapists use biofeedback to help stoke victims regain muscle strength from paralysis and other movement disorders. Others use biofeedback to regain control of a poorly functioning bladder or bowel.
Most people need several sessions to learn the techniques of biofeedback and are usually successful by the time they complete 12 sessions. Contact your physician for more information about biofeedback and to recommend a therapist trained in the technique.