A literature review by VA and Oregon Health & Science University researchers confirmed that biofeedback can help several health problems. Studies show that biofeedback can ease headache pain, improve incontinence, and aid in stroke recovery.
“We are encouraged by the positive findings and the additional findings of potential benefits for a wide range of conditions,” said Portland-based study author Dr. Karli Kondo of the VA Evidence Synthesis Program. “Biofeedback is a low-risk, cost-effective intervention. We hope that this report will help to make biofeedback more widely available to Veterans across the U.S., and that it will serve as a roadmap for future research in the field.”
Biofeedback uses instruments to measure and provide real-time feedback on patients’ physiological responses. It can help patients learn to control and change those responses.
It also measures muscle activity, heart rate, blood pressure, and brainwaves, and is often paired with treatments to change behavior, thoughts, or emotions. For example, using electromyography (EMG) to measure how muscles tighten may help patients consciously control those muscles.
In 2017, about 70 VA facilities reported offering some form of biofeedback.
The researchers’ new “evidence map” summarizes what the studies have found: biofeedback is effective for headache pain.
Strong evidence also exists showing that biofeedback can help urinary incontinence for men who have had their prostate removed. In this case, EMG is used to augment pelvic floor muscle training. Adding biofeedback provides immediate and long-term improvements beyond those seen with muscle training alone.
The evidence shows that biofeedback helps with several other conditions, although with fewer trials than were found for headaches or incontinence. For instance, EMG biofeedback can help with fecal incontinence in older people, and in young women who recently gave birth. Adding biofeedback can also play a role in stroke rehab.
The study was funded by the VA Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI).
Visit the VA Research website to learn about other VA research on complementary and integrative health approaches.