Biofeedback for neck pain – what it is and how to use it

Biofeedback therapy can help prevent or even treat conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, incontinence or migraine headaches by being able to allow people to learn how to harness the power of the mind over involuntary body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature that are normally involuntary functions that are controlled by our nervous systems. The purpose is to have better control over our health by utilizing the technique of biofeedback. Those individuals participating in biofeedback therapy learn how to relax better and it is this relaxed state of being that can improve certain health conditions. Participants in biofeedback learn different exercises including those that include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and mindfulness meditation (Seibert M.D., 2012).

There are different types of biofeedback and these different types are used to monitor different bodily functions. If you suffer from anxiety disorders, back pain, headaches, muscle injury or incontinence the type of biofeedback used may be Electromyogram (EMG). If you suffer from Raynaud’s disease or from headaches Thermal biofeedback may be used. Seizures, epileptics and those having been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit from Neurofeedback or Electroencephalography (EEG). Electrodermal activity (EDA) is often used with those in pain or suffering from anxiety disorders. If you suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Asthma, and Anxiety Disorders or have an irregular heartbeat a type of biofeedback called Heart rate variability (HRA) may be used (Seibert M.D., 2012).

Types of Biofeedback Therapy and what they do or measure:

  • Electromyography (EMG) – measures muscle activity and tension
  • Thermal – measures skin temperature
  • Neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG) – measures brain waves
  • Electrodermal activity (EDA) – measures sweating
  • Heart rate variability (HRA) – measures heart rate

Typically patients will have sessions that last approximately 30 minutes and each condition can take varying amounts of time to treat such as headaches in just 10 sessions or less and high blood pressure in 20 sessions before improvements are noticed.

Neck pain or any type of chronic pain is typically associated with tight muscles and learning how to relax these muscles can bring relief from pain in all ages groups even children. Neck pain is becoming more prevalent with more people using computers at work and while at home for leisure. Biofeedback has shown in studies to bring more noticeable relief than using pain-relieving methods. The use of biofeedback allows individuals to be more aware of muscle tightness which can lead to neck pain and by being more aware of the beginning tightness it is possible to avoid neck pain with the use of biofeedback (Haycock, 2011).

Neck pain characteristics are not limited to pain alone. A person may be experiencing a dull ache, throbbing, tingling, numbness or tenderness. People with neck pain often also experience headaches or upper and or lower back pain. Sometimes multiple symptoms ar the result of neck trauma and the resultant pinched nerves in the neck or whiplash. A poorly designed work environment can lead to neck pain and discomfort too. A person referred to the use of biofeedback therapy for neck pain may have tried more traditional pain management methods without success. Because biofeedback is considered to be less risky than other more invasive procedures and is non-surgical as well as non-invasive patients are relieved to hear about this option from their treating physicians. Biofeedback may be used in conjunction with other conservative treatments such as braces, massage therapy or chiropractic care. A biofeedback therapist usually conducts biofeedback and healthcare professionals usually know of biofeedback therapist in the local area. Many respected medical professionals view biofeedback as a pain management technique and alternative therapy.

During a biofeedback therapy sessions transducers are attached to the body’s surface and it is the transducers that relay the important information to a “processor unit” and then once the information is processed it is relayed back to the therapist using different emitter devises and then the information is given to the patient. This entire process of information being sent and received is called the biofeedback loop and it is this information that allows the patient to learn how to control the reactions his or her body has to the internal or external stimuli specific to their case and can then help them to control body functions in an effort to reduce pain or other conditions. The information is used by the therapist along with relaxation, and or visualization techniques and quite possibly physical exercise and learned breathing patterns all in an attempt to control bodily functions. Biofeedback has positive results because it gives individuals a sense of having some control over neck pain or other conditions. Chronic pain often leads those who suffer to believe that they are very much “not in control” and that the pain has a life of its own. Using techniques such as those used in biofeedback allows patients to take back control and feel better about their ability to cope with chronic pain (Laser Spine Institute).

There are many benefits achieved when using biofeedback including the ability to learn better relaxation skills, to be able to relax specific muscle groups, and the ability to learn how to deal better with emotions that can erupt when in pain. Often those going through biofeedback are able to connect in a group setting with others undergoing biofeedback and being able to have conversations with others experiencing similar situations can be of great comfort. Typically most 3rd party payers reimburse the cost of biofeedback, which can reduce financial stress too. It is probably wise to check with your specific healthcare coverage providers before beginning your biofeedback sessions to verify coverage. The benefits of using biofeedback for neck pain and other conditions are many and are worth exploring with your healthcare provider.

A personal EMG biofeedback device that can be used to help relieve neck pain and neck tension is now available from Xen Health. It is wireless and comes with a companion app to monitor your tension and includes muscle relaxation training sessions.

References:

Seibert M.D., A. (2012, 05 10). Overview of
biofeedback. Retrieved from
http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/biofeedback-therapy-uses-benefits

Haycock, D. A. (2011, 08 01). Neck and shoulder pain?
try biofeedback. Retrieved from
http://fyiliving.com/health-news/neck-and-shoulder-pain-try-biofeedback/

Laser Spine Institute. (n.d.). Biofeedback therapy. Retrieved
from http://www.laserspineinstitute.com/beendoctors/section/other/ 26/biofeedback/188/

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