What Is Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?

Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore, Brain Injury Hope Foundation
What Is Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?

Biofeedback and EEG neurofeedback have been documented as successful treatment modalities for MTBI. EEG biofeedback has been shown as an effective inter­vention for treating auditory memory problems in TBI. And quantitative EEG is a highly sensitive diagnostic tool in identifying post concussion syndrome. Currently, there are numerous biofeedback and neurofeedback training programs for optimal performance that have shown good preliminary results in reducing or eliminating symptoms of TBI and PTSD. Biofeedback/neurofeedback was also studied by Dr. Eugene Peniston for the treatment of combat-related, post traumatic stress disorder and ­substance abuse.

Biofeedback is the use of sensitive instruments to measure physical responses in the body and feed them back to you in order to help alter your body’s responses. You can observe the feedback on a computer screen or listen to sound feedback.

Biofeedback Treatment Options

Different types of biofeedback are used to treat various physical and emotional problems. For example:

  • Electromyographic biofeedback (EMG) may be used to treat muscle tension headaches as well as neck pain, jaw pain, etc.
  • Temperature biofeedback helps you learn to increase blood flow into various parts of the body. Having a head injury may cause temperature dysregulation. Many individuals report feeling very hot or very cold.
  • Electrodermal response (EDR) is a way to measure the body’s tendency to go into a fight-or-flight response. This may happen after a traumatic event.
  • Pneumographic biofeedback (breathing biofeedback) is a modality used to measure chest versus abdominal breathing. This can help you learn to breathe more deeply and regularly to improve your relaxation response.
  • Heart rate variability biofeedback brings the cardiovascular and physiological systems into harmony, which may positively affect conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
  • EEG neurofeedback or brain-wave biofeedback is a form of biofeedback in which surface electrodes are placed on the scalp to measure specific brain-wave frequencies and provide feedback to the individual. You may learn to suppress or enhance specific brain-wave frequencies, thus enabling you to learn to focus, relax, and increase flexibility of thinking.

The primary brain-wave frequencies that are measured include delta, theta, alpha, low beta, and beta. Different brain-wave frequencies are associated with various states and various disorders. For example, individuals with traumatic brain injuries frequently have an abundance of theta waves, or low-frequency brain waves. Attention deficit disorders also reveal high levels of theta. The goal of this treatment is to teach individuals to move flexibly in and out of certain brain-wave states to enhance performance. If theta levels are too high and you cannot focus, you may want to learn to suppress that wave and increase alpha and beta which will allow you to be more focused and present. Many of the neurofeedback protocols used with TBI and PTSD also involve sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) training.

Treatment Techniques

In conjunction with visual and auditory feedback from the biofeedback equipment and brain-wave machines, individuals are encouraged to practice daily techniques to enhance their skill levels.

Following are some of the most successful techniques:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep muscle relaxation
  • Breathing and muscle awareness
  • Autogenic relaxation or rapid relaxation
  • Visual imagery
  • Open-focus training
  • Systematic desensitization, a technique that helps develop an internal sense of control
  • Short relaxation forms (e.g., quieting response, body stress scanning)
  • Carryover techniques to bring the strategies into everyday life

Benefits Gained from Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

The benefits of biofeedback depend on the skills you want to learn. For example, you may learn to warm your hands, which may, in turn, lower your blood pressure or decrease migraine headaches. By learning to relax the muscles in your face, neck, shoulders, and back, you may be able to eliminate or decrease tension headaches, jaw pain, back pain, or clenching and grinding of your teeth. By learning to go into a relaxation response rather than a stress response, you can decrease anxiety.

The benefits of neurofeedback are many. For example, you may learn to alter your brain-wave frequencies to decrease foggy thinking and increase clarity and cognitive stamina. It is important to see a provider who is certified by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (www.bcia.org).

Posted on BrainLine December 7, 2010. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

From Understanding Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: An Insightful Guide to Symptoms, Treatments, and Redefining Recovery by Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore. © 2010 by the Brain Injury Hope Foundation. Used with permission. www.braininjuryhopefoundation.org.

Comments (5)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Don't fall for the BCIA scam that promotes manufacturer of QEEG over really alleviating human suffering. Did you know that running a QEEG generates 6 billable codes? Manufacturers, neurologists and everyone gets paid a lot of money. They don't care that the 20% of lab bill coming to you is actually a lot of money and it was not necessary to get better.

It's one thing if it really helped anyone, but the fact is QEEG guided training does not reliably produce the POST QEEG's corresponding to symptom changes... according to Barry Sterman, the researcher that discovered neurofeedback.

Go to neurofeedback providers that don't force you to traumatize your autistic child with unnecessary QEEG's.

2 years we are still searching for help for my son with MTBI.
seems like everyone is selling neurofeedback. Not sure which one to try especially with limited funds. some offer in-home qeeg and remote neurofeedback others offer in-home dynofeedback, do it your self with their equipment over their computer, the clinics are super expensive and involve stressful travel. Any input would be much appreciated.

I've worked in EEG biofeedback (neurofeedback) for 14 years. A recent client of mine had an undiagnosed head injury from a car wreck that caused her life to fall apart. She couldn't take care of her kids, she was disorganized, couldn't clean the house (her house used be spotless). She and her husband were having major problems - all since the car wreck. After 2 sessions of neurofeedback training, she said - "I'm getting my life back." Her husband said the house was clean again, and that he felt like he had his wife back. 2 sessions is not close to enough training. But neurofeedback helps improve cortical timing. That helps people function better. These are common reports from licensed clinicians around the country working with MTBI and TBI. But few MD's or patients - even at the top centers - are aware of how much progress someone can make with neurofeedback. When you train the brain, you get the chance to see how well your brain can work again, even with significant TBI's. The first hospital in the country - very innovative, is now using neurofeeddback as part of TBI and stroke in Davenport, Iowa. Other hospitals still have no clue what it is. To find a qualified clinician in neurofeedback, start at www.ISNR.org. Or go to www.AboutNeurofeedback.com.
I suffered a TBI about 7 years ago. I felt like my body and mind were falling apart .....getting older and more senile by the day........yet I didn't feel that before the whiplash. Finally I found Brain State Technology and in 10 sessions got rid of PTSD and the "flat affect"' Next 10 sessions got rid of seizure activity of 42 years (grand mal seizures). Next 10 sessions I got back by memory, vocabulary, writing, focus and attention (I stopped feeling like I had ADD and like a stroke victim). Brain State works. My ADD brother got rid of his anger problem and my ADD nephew acquired social skills and is now going back for more sessions for school work and his own TBI issues. My friends went for PTSD and were equally successful. Thought you would like to find a way that works. I works from the inside of the brain out. Biofeedback and neurofeedbackwork from the outside inwards training the brain again is what I heard. Good luck and it I wish I had done this years ago....saved myself a lot of suffering. Good luck with you journey. Now I get to spread the word and maybe help someone else.

I am a disabled veteran with PTSD, MST, anxiety and SAD. I am interested in the holistic approach treatment and wonder if there are any that accept VA in Florida and offer Hynotherapy, acupuncture Neurofeedback or TMS as treatment for addiction inpatient?