Biofeedback: A Tool For Living With Lupus

Biofeedback: A Tool For Living With Lupus

Article reproduced with permission from the author, Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.

There are things you can control, and things you can't. For a long time it was thought that you could only control your behavior, and that the physiological activities in your body were totally beyond your control. But within the past few decades, people have learned that they can identify-- and control --a number of physical functions within their bodies. And it's easier than you might think!

What Is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is the process of using high-tech monitoring equipment provide you with instantaneous information about your own biological conditions. There are a number of different categories of biofeedback procedures (see section below, Common Types of Biofeedback) designed to monitor such physiological functions as muscle tension, skin temperature, perspiration, pulse rate, heart rate, and other muscle and autonomic nervous system activities.

What Is a Biofeedback Session Like?
In a typical biofeedback session, you'll sit in a comfortable chair. Wires, or leads, will connect you to a computer, and the electrodes will be attached to those parts of your body that are targeted for measurement and modification (usually the head, hands, fingers, feet, or muscle areas). These leads will transmit signals to the computer, which gives immediate information by signals you can see and/or hear, about the levels of physiological activity at the site(s) of connection. You'll probably find this very interesting, but what's even more fascinating is how it takes so little for you to change the levels you're seeing or hearing! The computer then indicates any changes in your body's activities that occur as a result of the relaxation and visualization techniques used during the session. This is the essence of biofeedback.

What Are the Goals of Biofeedback?
The primary goad of biofeedback is not to just learn what your levels are, but to learn what you can actually do to modify, change, or control these levels, through the use of relaxation and/or visualization techniques.

You'll work with a certified biofeedback therapist--a professional trained in all phases of biofeedback, including what each of the levels means and what techniques can help you to produce the desired changes in these levels.

Physical and mental exercises will help you to accomplish this. You'll learn how to focus your mind on a specific biological function and mentally visualize the desired change. (For example, if you're suffering from Raynaud's phenomenon, your goal might be to imagine warming your hands, and to visualize holding your hands over a gentle flame.) By observing the computer signals that indicate your physiological activities, you'll know exactly what works! You'll learn how to change your thinking, breathing, visualizing, muscle tension, and posture in ways that will directly produce the desired results.

These changes will help you to accomplish your goals for biofeedback, such as reducing pain, anxiety, or other uncomfortable symptoms. Through practice, you'll eventually be able to "condition" your body to produce these changes naturally. (And, no, you won't have to spend your life hooked up to a biofeedback machine in order to succeed! A course of biofeedback treatment usually takes from five to twelve sessions.)

What symptoms can be helped by biofeedback? Research shows that biofeedback is effective for a variety of symptoms and problems (see section below, Symptoms Commonly Treated With Biofeedback). And because biofeedback treatment can be so relaxing, it can be a useful adjunct to treatment for virtually any physical illness or emotional problem.

How Should You Proceed?
So can biofeedback help you? And can it do anything for your lupus? The answer to both questions is a resounding "Yes!" Ask your physician(s) for names of qualified biofeedback therapists in your area, or check the Yellow Pages, which may list psychologists or other professionals who offer biofeedback. As with any professional, you want to work with someone who is sensitive to your needs, and with whom you feel comfortable And isn't it nice to know there's something else you can do to improve your life with lupus?

Common Types of Biofeedback

Electromyography (EMG) - This measures the level of muscle tension in your body and can be useful in treating chronic muscle pain, muscle stiffness, intestinal symptoms, incontinence, and muscle injury.

Thermal (temperature) biofeedback - This measures your skin temperature, which can indicate changes in your blood-flow. This can be useful in treating hypertension (high blood pressure), migraines and other headaches, Raynaud's phenomenon, and anxiety.

Electrodermal activity (EDA) - This measures perspiration changes that might otherwise be too minimal to detect and can be useful in treating anxiety.

Finger pulse feedback - This measures both your pulse rate and the amount of blood in each pulse and can be useful in treating anxiety, hypertension, and even cardiac arrhythmia.

Respiration feedback - This measures your breathing, including rate, volume, and rhythm. It can help to determine whether you are using chest or abdominal breathing, and can be useful in treating hyperventilation, asthmatic conditions, and anxiety.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) feedback - This measures your brain waves and is useful in treating anxiety and insomnia.

These techniques may be used individually or in combination.

Symptoms Commonly Treated With Biofeedback

A variety of symptoms and problems can be treated with biofeedback, including:

About the author
Dr. Robert Phillips has been a practicing psychologist for more than 20 years and is the author of more than 20 books, including "Coping with Lupus", "Lupus: Everything You Need To Know" (co-authored with Dr. Robert Lahita); and the books in the "Lupus Strategy Guidebook" series. Dr. Phillips is the director of the Long Island, NY "Center for Coping" and invites anyone living in or visiting the Long Island area to call (516) 822-3131 for a free biofeedback consultation and experience!

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Page Last Updated: Tuesday, October 6, 1998