What is biofeedback for PTSD?

Biofeedback is a technique where information about the person’s body is fed back to them so that they can be trained to alter their body’s conditions. Physical therapists use biofeedback to help stroke victims regain movement in paralyzed muscles. Other specialists use biofeedback to help their patients cope with pain. It is also commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety, and to encourage relaxation.

Electromyographic biofeedback is used by psychologists to help anxious patients learn to relax. The electromyograph picks up electrical signals in the muscles and translates these signals into a flashing light or a beep every time muscles grow tense. If patients relax their tense muscles, they can slow down the flashing or beeping. Electroencephalographic biofeedback is used to teach self-regulation of brain function. It is usually provided using video or sound, with positive feedback for desirable brain activity and negative feedback for undesirable brain activity. Thermal biofeedback uses a temperature sensor to allow the patient to track his or her body temperature. During times of stress, the body will divert blood from the surface area of the body to the muscles and organs, allowing us to better respond to a nearby threat. When a patient is stressed, this will show as a drop-in temperature in the body’s surface areas. When a patient’s surface temperature is high, it typically means they are in a relaxed or sleepy state.

Dysregulation in autonomic nervous system activity is common in a variety of mental health disorders and presents targets for biofeedback. Hypoarousal patterns include slow, regular heart rate, increased heart rate variability, warm skin temperature, low sweat gland activity, and dominance of EEG frequencies in the theta to low alpha range (3.5–10 Hz). In contrast, hyperarousal is reflected by increased heart rate and decreased heart rate variability, high electrodermal activity, and higher frequency EEG bandwidth ranges in high-alpha or beta range (15–42 Hz).

What is the evidence for the effectiveness of biofeedback in people with PTSD?

The only review that met inclusion criteria assessed EEG neurofeedback. It contained moderate to low quality evidence and found a large improvement in PTSD symptoms with 4-12 weeks of neurofeedback compared to no treatment.

August 2021

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Last updated at: 12:54 am, 15th October 2021
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