What is Biofeedback Therapy
Biofeedback is a technique used to train a patient’s mind to control the way their body works. It is the most studied mind–body therapy for gastrointestinal disorders.
Biofeedback therapy takes place in two parts. To start, patients undergo a painless series of sensory tests using electric monitoring equipment. The tests measure changes in bodily functions that, in general, most people are not aware of, such as blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, and muscle and nerve tension in the pelvic floor. Therapists use the “biofeedback” from the tests to identify abnormalities in a patient’s bodily functions and use that information to educate patients about how to correct their bodies.
Trained therapists—including physicians, nurses, and physical or occupational therapists—teach patients strengthening exercises or relaxation techniques that can be performed to reduce their symptoms. The sessions vary in number, length and frequency, and can take place in a doctor’s office or at the patient’s home. Patients with gastrointestinal disorders often undergo six to eight treatment sessions over a three-month period.
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, practice is the key to improvement with biofeedback: “Repetition of the correct patterns and applications of these patterns to everyday situations is critical to reestablishing bowel control” (accessed on June 8, 2006 at www.aboutconstipation.org/biofeedback.html).
Biofeedback specialists caution that the success of the therapy often depends on the skills of the biofeedback therapist and the techniques used to carry out training.
“Biofeedback is not as easy as popping a pill. People need to be adequately trained. It requires motivation. It is labor-intensive. But, it’s extremely effective when done well,” said Satish S. C. Rao, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, and author of several studies on biofeedback.
Notably, biofeedback training is more expensive than laxatives in short-term studies and is not widely available.