What Is It?

Biofeedback is a form of therapy that teaches you to control physiological functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and even brain waves. By learning to control these functions, you may be able to improve your medical condition, to relieve chronic pain, to reduce stress, or to improve your physical or mental performance (sometimes called “peak performance” training).

During biofeedback training, sensors detect changes in your pulse, skin temperature, muscle tone, brain-wave pattern or some other physiological function. These changes trigger a specific signal — a sound, a flashing light, a change in pattern on a video screen — which tells you that the physiological change has occurred. Gradually, with the help of your biofeedback therapist, you will learn to alter the signal yourself by taking conscious control of your body’s physiology.

What It’s Used For

Biofeedback has been used to treat the following health problems:

  • Headaches, especially tension headaches and migraine
  • Chronic pain
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Digestive disorders, including constipation
  • Incontinence — both urinary and fecal
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias)
  • Addiction, including alcohol addiction
  • Raynaud’s disease (a circulatory problem that causes cold hands and bluish fingertips)
  • Epilepsy
  • Paralysis and certain movement disorders
  • Spinal-cord injury
  • Sleep disorders
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Bedwetting (enuresis)
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)/attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder

Each year, new illnesses are added to the list of health problems that may respond to biofeedback therapy. In the United States, biofeedback is becoming increasingly popular as a form of complementary therapy, especially among people looking for a treatment alternative to prescription drugs.


Biofeedback usually requires no special physical preparation, but some intellectual and psychological preparation is helpful. This preparation can involve:

  • Reading about biofeedback, so that you have a general concept of the treatment process before you start therapy
  • Making sure that you are approaching biofeedback as a legitimate form of therapy, not as a trendy fad
  • Recognizing that biofeedback can work for you
  • Being motivated to spend the time and effort required to complete your course of biofeedback

If your doctor refers you to a therapist for biofeedback, the therapist will contact the doctor to discuss your medical history and your current health problems before you begin therapy.

If your doctor has not referred you to a biofeedback therapist, but you wish to try biofeedback, call your doctor first to discuss the situation. This will give you an opportunity to hear your doctor’s assessment of biofeedback as a treatment for your specific health problem. It also will help to give your doctor a more complete picture of the treatments you are using.

Before you begin biofeedback therapy or any other form of alternative therapy, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that you ask about your therapist’s credentials, experience and certification. You should also determine the cost of treatment, and whether treatment is covered by your health insurance.

How It’s Done

Biofeedback is a learning experience that requires motivation, time, effort, practice and honest communication with your therapist. During the first part of the treatment session, your therapist usually will discuss your symptoms and expectations, your medical history, your current medications and any other treatment you tried before biofeedback. During the next part of your session, your therapist will discuss specific goals for your therapy — the physiological changes you hope to achieve and the symptom relief you can expect. You also will be introduced to the biofeedback equipment.

Finally, you will be connected to the biofeedback equipment through sensors that detect your physiological responses. The type of sensor varies according to the type of physiological process being measured. For example, for muscle biofeedback, sensors may be attached to muscles on your head, neck and jaw. For thermal or temperature biofeedback, sensors may be attached to your fingertips or toes. As you gradually learn to control these functions, some of which are unconscious physiological functions, the biofeedback equipment will signal your progress with a tone, flashing light or change in pattern on a video screen.

The total number of biofeedback sessions varies. At the end of each session, your therapist will review your progress and outline a specific schedule for you to practice what you have learned at home. Consistent practice between sessions will help you to remember your biofeedback training and to reinforce it.


Once you have finished your biofeedback sessions, you can return to your biofeedback therapist’s office at your discretion.

If you are under a doctor’s care, continue communicating and seeing your doctor. You should make any changes in your treatment plan in partnership with your doctor.


Biofeedback generally is considered to be a safe form of therapy. Right now, no state laws regulate the training of biofeedback therapists, but many therapists voluntarily obtain a certificate from the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA) as proof of their education, experience and professionalism.

When To Call A Professional

If your doctor has referred you to a biofeedback therapist, but biofeedback sessions are not helping to relieve your symptoms, call your doctor to discuss the situation. Depending on your specific type of health problem, your doctor may suggest an alternative form of treatment or reconsider your original diagnosis.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.