Biofeedback: The Human-Machine Connection

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Abstract

Biofeedback is being used as a complementary treatment for a wide range of applications. It can be used to help regulate the body and mind. An added benefit is that biofeedback produces vast amounts of data showing results. With all this going for it, what could possibly go wrong?

Biofeedback: The Human-Machine Connection

According to the Complete Guide to Pilates Yoga Meditation Stress Relief:
Biofeedback is a way of monitoring and controlling unconscious biological functions through electronic devices. It can also help you monitor your response to stress. Probes or electrodes are attached to your body and connected to electronic ‘biofeedback’ instruments that monitor physical responses. While getting feedback you perform relaxation exercises to regulate body functions until you reach a state of relaxation. (2002)
That sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it? It must be very high tech. If it’s backed by science it must work. It’s the next great breakthrough, and the sky’s the limit. Please don’t mind the electrodes though. And try not to think about probes.
It may sound like I think it isn’t real. In fact, quite the opposite, I know it is. I must admit thought that I fear the biofeedback field is both overcomplicating and underestimating itself.
The official definition, according to Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB), the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA), and the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) is:
Biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. Precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior — supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument. (2008)

Biofeedback, simply because of the fact that the human body is connected to an electronic device, is a fairly new field. In the 1960’s research began. Some names of note are Neal Miller for his research on training animals to self regulate heart rate and blood pressure, John Basmanjian for his work on training control of specific motor units within skeletal muscles in humans, and Joe Kamiya for his focus on conscious alteration of brain wave states. In 1969, the term “biofeedback” was first used and the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback was formed ((No last name given)).

As biofeedback is used to complement more treatments for more pathologies, scientific data keeps piling up. It is after all, a therapy designed to produce data. My inner geek drools when I imagine the beautiful charts and graphs I could create to show results over time. It really does help. PTSD, diabetes, cardiovascular, and so many more studies are going on. I must confess to giggling at the description of pelvic biofeedback. I knew biofeedback is appropriate to either strengthen weak muscles or relax hypertonic muscles, but according to Liz Rummer (MSPT) there has been some issue with physical therapists over-kegeling patients (2012).

As more results lead to more experiments on more applications, even better technology is being developed. Of course the training gets more complicated. The machines get more expensive. Insurance companies will write more rules. The latest and greatest medical advances are often out of reach of the people that would benefit the most from them.

Expense and bureaucracy aside, biofeedback is great even if it only relieved stress, settled brainwaves, and slowed heart rate. If it just did that, and anyone had free access, think of the cumulative health benefits and long term savings. Well guess what. There is an app for that, if you can afford a good enough phone that is. There really are no contraindications except sensitivity to electrode adhesive, although touch screens are replacing those. “White Coat Syndrome”, a fear of healthcare in general, technophobia , and probe phobias may also make some patients resistant.
It still sounds like programming to me though. That’s because it is. It is a communication between man and machine. We tell the machine to give us information. The machine does. We interpret what we need to do, comply, triggering another response from the machine, and so on. Remember those lasting effects after unplugging mentioned earlier? Please remind me who is programming who again.
I must admit the potential for spin-off technology is endless. Already we can use some mental control of prosthetic limbs, or help a paraplegic to operate computers with only eye movements. It won’t stay there though. I wonder how long it will be until we don’t even have to move a finger, floating in a zero-gravity chair, controlling our entertainment, socializing, and work effortlessly. We could even just go ahead and get those probes implanted and put a potty in the chair. The modern human does tend toward laziness. Repetitive stress injuries will decline. Obesity will continue to climb. I am going to need a bigger massage table.
And don’t forget that communication, by definition, is two way. Why am I suddenly thinking about sci-fi movies? For every Yin there is a Yang. Someone will figure out a malicious use or two someday.
Since when do we need computers to tell us how to listen to our own bodies anyway? And the best biofeedback device, in my opinionated opinion, is other human beings with a very special magical power. That magical power is called caring.

Conclusion
I do not wish to sound like I do not want biofeedback research to continue. If the intent is healing and reminds patients to how to listen to themselves, ultimately independent of machines, I am all for it. I could go on for pages about the amazing ways our bodies talk to us all the time, or how people give physical, mental, and emotional feedback to others, usually without even realizing it. But I didn’t. I decided instead to prove instead in my activity that even biofeedback can be improved with a connection between humans.


References

Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. (2008, May 18). Consumer’s page. Retrieved from http://www.aapb.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3287

Complete guide to Pilates yoga meditation stress relief. (2002). Bath, UK: Parragon.
(No last name given), S. (n.d.). Biofeedback history. Retrieved from http://www.stress-relief-tools.com/biofeedback-history.html

Rummer, L. (30, May 2012). The truth about biofeedback and e-stim. Retrieved from http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/blog/2012/05/the-truth-about-biofeedback-and-e-stim/

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