Treatment of Chronic Pain Syndrome

Chronic pain biofeedback is an alternative medical therapy approach in order to help mitigate pain. Learn more here.

Table of Contents

What is Chronic Pain Syndrome?

Biofeedback therapy is a technique people can use to control certain body functions. During a biofeedback session, electrical sensors give you information about your body. The information or “feedback” provided by the sensors can help you make changes to your body, including muscle relaxation, which can improve or reduce chronic pain. With time and practice, you will be able to take the skills you learn during biofeedback sessions and learn to make adjustments to body functions without the aid of equipment.

Symptoms of chronic pain syndrome can persist for months or even years after the illness or injury that first triggered symptoms. Data provided by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests chronic pain conditions affect nearly twenty-five million Americans.1

Impact of Chronic Pain

The symptoms of chronic pain feel differently for everyone. Most people report pain sensations that are burning, throbbing, pulsing, squeezing, shooting, or a dull ache. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of chronic pain syndrome is highest among women (21.7%) and seniors (30.8%).2

What is Biofeedback Therapy?

Biofeedback for pain is an alternative medicine approach that teaches you how to change the way your body functions. Biofeedback techniques are mind-body approaches that can help you improve your physical and emotional health, and also can help with various conditions, including high blood pressure, migraine, tension headaches, mental health conditions, breathing problems, digestive issues, and urinary incontinence. Biofeedback therapy is also an effective chronic pain syndrome treatment.3

Common Types of Biofeedback Therapy

There are several types of biofeedback techniques. The best one for you will depend on your treatment needs and goals. Examples of common biofeedback types include:4
  • Brain Waves: This is biofeedback that uses sensors, which are placed on the scalp to monitor your brain waves. 
  • Breathing: This is also called respiratory biofeedback and uses bands placed around the chest and abdomen to monitor respiratory rate and breathing patterns. 
  • Heart Rate: Heart rate biofeedback uses sensors on the fingers and earlobes to detect blood volume changes. Other types of heart rate biofeedback use electrocardiograph (ECG) sensors placed on the chest, torso, or wrists to measure heart rate patterns. 
  • Muscle Contraction: This form of biofeedback uses sensors placed over the skeletal muscles to monitor the electrical activity that causes muscle contractions. 
  • Sweat Gland: Sweat gland activity biofeedback uses sensors placed on the fingers, palms, or wrist to measure the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration (sweat) on your skin, which can alert you to increased anxiety levels.
  • Temperature: During temperature biofeedback sessions, sensors placed on the fingers or feet measure the blood flow to your skin. A low reading may indicate elevated stress and encourage engaging in relaxation techniques.

Does Biofeedback Really Work?

Biofeedback techniques are not new. Since its first use in the 1960s, biofeedback has grown in use as a complementary alternative for a wide range of medical and mental health conditions. Evidence suggests biofeedback tools are highly effective in reducing pain and symptoms related to several conditions, including headache, hypertension, and chronic pain.5

How Biofeedback Helps in Chronic Pain Treatment

Although there remains a question about the “exact” mechanisms of action that allow biofeedback to heal, researchers understand that biofeedback promotes relaxation, which is critical to pain management. Relaxation can also relieve symptoms associated with several mental health conditions related to stress and anxiety.

Biofeedback Measurements

During a biofeedback session, a therapist will attach electrodes or sensors to your skin. The location of the sensors will depend on the type of biofeedback treatment. Each sensor sends signals to a monitoring device which displays the information as a sound, light, or image. Each biofeedback measurement provides a reading of the activity of a particular body area or function.

Examples of biofeedback measurements often collected during a session include:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing
  • Brain waves
  • Body temperature
  • Muscle contractions 
  • Sweat gland activity

Biofeedback Therapy Approaches and Machines

Each sensor connected to your body is also connected to a machine that monitors and relays activity. The type of machine used in your biofeedback therapy for pain sessions will depend on the approach chosen by your provider.

  • Rheoencephalography (REG): A machine that measures blood flow to your brain.
  • Hemoencephalography (HEG): A tool that measures oxygen and blood flow to the front of your brain.6
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): A machine used to measure brain waves.
  • Electrocardiograms (ECG): A machine that measures and records electrical activity in your heart.
  • Electromyogram (EMG): A tool that measures muscle activity and tension.
  • Galvanic Skin Response Training: A biofeedback technique used to measure changes in sweat gland activity.

Relaxation Techniques

Another part of biofeedback for chronic pain therapy is learning how to take the information you receive from the biofeedback sensors and tools to alter body function. As a part of a chronic pain biofeedback session, your biofeedback therapist will teach and help you practice several relaxation exercises.

These techniques can be used during a session and while at home to improve control over various body functions. Examples of common and effective relaxation tools include mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation or PMR.7

Chronic Pain Symptoms Relief with Biofeedback Therapy

Chronic pain biofeedback therapy can help to alleviate discomfort associated with several chronic pain conditions. 

Migraine and Headaches

The success rate of biofeedback pain relief is perhaps the most widely studied in the area of headaches. Migraines and “traditional” headaches occur due to muscle tension and stress. There is strong evidence that biofeedback for pain management can help relax muscles and alleviate stress, reducing headaches’ intensity and frequency. 

One study showed biofeedback reduced the duration of headaches by almost two days per month and reduced the frequency of days when headache pain was greater than fifty, on a scale of one hundred, by 2.4 times.8

Back Pain

Biofeedback for pain may also alleviate back pain. An analysis of over twenty research studies conducted in 2017 showed that chronic pain biofeedback reduced chronic back pain in many instances.9

Fibromyalgia Pain

Studies also suggest that chronic pain biofeedback is effective for short-term pain reduction in patients with fibromyalgia, which is a type of musculoskeletal pain.10

Risks and Benefits of Using Biofeedback for Chronic Pain

Biofeedback for pain management is generally safe for most people. However, it may not be the best choice for everyone. Suppose you or a loved one have specific medical conditions, such as some skin conditions or heart rhythm problems. In that case, you should discuss the risk and benefits of biofeedback with your medical provider before you schedule your first session.

Chronic pain biofeedback can help you take control of your physical and emotional health without invasive treatments or medications with undesirable side effects. With practice and time, you can learn how to make small changes that are vital steps in improving muscle performance, relieving stress, and managing chronic pain. This can help improve your overall quality of life.

Biofeedback and Healing at J. Flowers Health Institute

Biofeedback is a non-invasive way to take back control of your overall health and wellness. To learn more about how you can use biofeedback to control chronic pain, contact us today at J. Flowers Health Institute to ask about biofeedback therapy.