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Biofeedback teaches relaxation skills to patients with a variety of problems in which stress plays a role. The modality uses instruments to measure certain functions of the body, such as blood pressure, muscle tension, and brain wave activity.

The patient is taught how to recognize different physiological states, and how to alleviate signs of stress through relaxation techniques. If a person has tension headaches, for example, he may learn how to relax the muscles of the forehead, neck, and shoulders.

At the same time, the person hears a tone or sees waves on a screen that indicate the physiological changes taking place. In time, the person learns how to differentiate between tension and relaxation and how to create the latter state. Biofeedback is used to help alleviate pain and to correct a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, insomnia, and migraines.

Julie on patients with hypertension and low back pain

I’m working with somebody right now to lower his hypertension. Learning diaphragmatic breathing, and learning to warm your hands—which is getting some control of your cardiovascular system—can help in lowering blood pressure.

It’s important to apply those skills in situations where you tend to get tense. I’ve also done a lot of work with patients with low back pain.

The pain can come from an accident, like an injury on the job, or it can appear just all of a sudden.

The back pain appears one day, or little by little it creeps up. Very frequently, much more frequently than people realize, there’s a muscle tension component to back pain.

A lot of physicians just look for disc problems or pressure on a nerve. But much more often we find that back pain is related to muscle tension. So again, using biofeedback to learn specifically to relax the muscles of the back in the area of discomfort can help people to control their pain.Another very interesting aspect of the physiology that we can look at now with computerized biofeedback is to look at whether people recruit the muscles of their back say, when they’re moving or when they’re standing still, whether they recruit the muscles in a symmetrical or an asymmetrical pattern.

If you think about it, if you’re just standing straight and then you bend over straight forward and then bring your head back to center it ought to be the case that the muscles on the right side of your back and the muscles on the left side of your back do an equal amount of work if you’re standing centered. In a lot of cases with muscle pain in which the amount of muscle tension that appears on one side will be 20, 40, 50, 100 percent greater.

Sometimes what we do that helps is to teach people to deliberately tense the side that’s too relaxed, and then, when they learn to do that, the muscles on the other side don’t have to bear such a heavy burden.

That can result in a reductionin pain.

Affrine on severe migraines

I’ve had migraines for about three years now. So far, I would say that biofeedback training has been the one thing that has helped me. . . .We did a lot of the hand warming and the surface electromyography and relaxation techniques.

What I’ ve learned is basically that your whole body is disposed to respond a certain way after many years. Biofeedback helps you to take control of how you are going to respond to certain triggers. Sometimes, with me, just being on the subway will trigger a headache.

I’ve learned that the trigger is not necessarily the cause just getting a hold of these triggers has actually helped me tremendously.At the very beginning when I started this I was not successful at all. It took a lot of practice; it’s a lot of work and :1 lot of time.

But nothing else has helped me.

I do it every day and I have different techniques.

I have a comfort cycle tape which features a type of relaxation. I also have hypnotherapy and imagery. That’s another tape that I listen to.

I’m in the pain program at Lenox Hill Hospital and so I do those three things eyen single day. I think it’s worth the effort because I used to get headaches all the time. Sometimes I’d get three a day, and sometimes I wouldn’t get one for three days. I haven’t had one in two weeks, so I think the success is really high for me.

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