Neurofeedback for Chronic Pain
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, also referred to as EEG feedback or Neurotherapy, literally means “brain” and “input,” where the brain is monitored and input is given instantly.” (Clear Mind Center, 2017). It is used to improve brainwave activity. Neurofeedback examines brainwaves, it finds the abnormalities, and then creates a signal to fix the abnormality and send the brainwave back to normal patterns. After many neurofeedback sessions the brain will be trained to stay within normal, healthy patterns without the help of a computer. This can reduce or even eliminate neurological symptoms.
Researchers have known for decades the connection between neurological conditions and abnormal brainwaves. Neurofeedback is the only treatment that directly focuses on fixing irregular brainwaves, returning them to healthy patterns.
What is the Difference Between Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?
Biofeedback is a general term to describe just about any type of feedback training that uses medical equipment to monitor body functions. Biofeedback gains information through monitoring skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves and other body conditions. Types of biofeedback include; heart rate variability, muscular and neurological (neurofeedback). Examples of biofeedback include: a thermometer, a blood pressure cuff and a PET scan.
Neurofeedback is a type of Biofeedback that deals specifically with brainwave readings, treating neurological conditions. Neurofeedback is far beyond traditional biofeedback as the space shuttle is beyond the first airplane. (Minnesota Neuro Training Institute) Neurofeedback gives people the opportunity to develop skills that would normally take 20 years through traditional approaches.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
First, you will have non-invasive sensors attached to your scalp with a conductive paste. The sensors will work like small microphones, recording and amplifying brainwave activity that you are already producing. Once the sensors are in place, you will usually have options on what audio or video you would like to listen to. Let’s say you will be watching a computer animation. As you are watching it, when the brain waves create normal patterns you will be rewarded with the animation moving and the sound playing. This works by the sensors picking up brain wave signals from the scalp, the computer receiving the cues from the sensors, and then transforming the images on the screen and tones. It is a pain free treatment. The sensors do not shock the brain, create electricity, read thoughts or anything of that nature.
Another example of this, is if there is video playing and it pauses or dims the brain fixes it when it senses the change. The brain will subconsciously modify itself back to healthy brainwave patterns. Gradually the brain learns to stay within the healthy patterns. Neurofeedback works through the subconscious mind, so the patient doesn’t feel a thing.
Neurofeedback checks the percentage of brain waves in specific areas of the brain and examines how the brainwaves are working together. Your brainwaves can be out of alignment; the same way your vehicle can hit a pothole and be out of alignment and not function correctly. (Psychology Today, 2014) Neurofeedback provides physical training for the brain to get brainwaves back into alignment.
Types of Brainwaves
We have four primary brainwaves; Alpha, Beta, Delta and Theta. Their job is to regulate the active and subconscious aspects of the body. All four are equally important to your health and well-being.
- Delta Brainwaves occur when you are in a deep, dreamless sleep or meditation. They are responsible for healing the body from injury or illness. Delta are also the source of empathy.
- Theta Brainwaves are produced when your subconscious takes over when sleeping or meditating. They are produced while you are dreaming, getting in touch with your intuition and accessing unconscious information. Theta brainwaves help with both learning and memory.
- Alpha Brainwaves take over when you are awake, relaxed and not processing a lot of information. They usually occur right before you fall asleep or right away when you wake up. Alpha help with coordination of calmness, awareness and the integration of mind and body activity.
- Beta Brainwaves are the ones people use during the day. Beta are used when solving problems, making judgments and decisions and engaging in productive mental activities.
- Gamma Brainwaves are active during states of love and altruism. They are responsible for the integration of information from different areas of the brain.
How Long Does Neurofeedback Take and How Long Does It Last?
Normal neurofeedback training typically takes 20 to 40 sessions with each session lasting 30 minutes each. However, the number of sessions will depend largely on the individual. Most people notice changes in just a few sessions. The practitioner should be able to provide graph results of each session showing a visual reference of improvement. But, the improvements won’t last if the patient stops before the training is considered complete. If you are below the age of 60, it is unlikely you will need any additional sessions later on in life. People over the age of 60 may need a few more sessions once or twice a year.
Benefits for Chronic Pain
Neurofeedback finds the actual cause of the neurological disorder. Take anxiety for an example, it is just a symptom of the actual problem, not the problem itself. Neurofeedback will pinpoint what brainwaves are out of alignment or under or over-activated and fix the problem. The cause of anxiety could be too much high frequency brainwave activity. Using a substance or behavior to change this behavior is only a temporary fix. Neurofeedback is a natural solution, and could possibility be a permanent solution.
How we experience the world is a result of our positive and negative brainwave activity. Neurofeedback can improve how we think, feel, and behave.
Conditions Neurofeedback Can Improve
Neurofeedback can work on people of all ages, as long as they can listen and focus on the audio or video stimulation. This can improve just about any neurological condition involving abnormalities in brainwaves.
Neurological Conditions Include: Attention-deficit disorder, Addiction, Anxiety, Autism, Brain Injury, Concussion, Chronic Pain in General, Depression, Drug Addiction, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Insomnia, Learning Disabilities, Migraines, Movement Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Parkinson Disease, Seizures, Sleep Disorders, Stress, Strokes, Traumatic Brain Injuries and more.
Neurofeedback can also help with aggressive behaviors, concentration, emotional imbalances, energy levels, motor skills, short-term memory, sleep and speech.
View About Neurofeedback to read more about how it helps with specific conditions.
How Safe is Neurofeedback?
The process is non-invasive, it doesn’t require drugs and is pain free. However, it can still have side effects. But, side effects are rare and usually minimal. It all comes down to having a trusted practitioner with the proper training and proper equipment. Since each session has such small improvements in brainwave activity, problems can be found and corrected right away before they become bigger issues. Side effects, for the most part, are not considered dangerous and will eventually subside. Just make sure you notify your practitioner right away.
Some reported side effects include; fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, head pressure, tiredness and low energy. With any treatment it’s important to consider the benefits in comparison to the side effects. If there are too many side effects with no results, then it won’t make sense to continue with neurofeedback. But, if the benefits outweigh the side effects, it may be beneficial to continue.
How to Find a Neurofeedback Practitioner
You can view these professional organization sites associated with biofeedback and neurofeedback to find a practitioner in your location: www.isnr.org, www.aapb.org, www.bcia.org, http://eeginfo.com/member/directory.do, http://certify.bcia.org/4dcgi/resctr/search.html
How to Choose the Right Practitioner
Make sure you are working with a practitioner with many years of experience and success with neurofeedback. You should also make sure that they complete an QEEG assessment prior to neurofeedback training. The QEEG maps out the brain to identify regions not working properly. With a QEEG the practitioner is targeting particular abnormalities rather than guessing what is wrong. This will also help to eliminate the chance of side effects. The practitioner will make sure to target areas of the brain that are less risky and known to produce positive results. A well trained practitioner will also make sure the sensors are placed in the proper locations.
History and The Scientific Proof Behind Neurofeedback
History of Brain Function
The concept that brain function involves waves of electrical pulses was discovered by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger. In 1924, while working as the Director at Jena Psychiatric University Clinic, he completed the first successful biofeedback of electrical brain activity. He published a series of articles about it between 1929 and 1938 showing brainwaves were caused by the activity of brain neurons and they could be recorded and measured.
History of Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback stems from the research done by Dr. Joe Kamiya and Dr. Barry Sterman in the 1960s. Kamiya’s research explored how alpha wave activity played a role in consciousness at the University of Chicago. Around the same time, Sterman researched brain activity during sleep at UCLA and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Sepulveda, California.
There has been over 1,000 studies published proving the effectiveness of neurofeedback along with biofeedback. Early animal research has been validated since the 1970’s in many peer-reviewed journals. These journals show that brainwaves have improved and reduced seizures with neurofeedback. Sterman and other researchers at UCLA found that cats trained to produce a brainwave frequency of 12 to 15 Hz were more resistant to chemically induced seizures than cats which had not been trained. (Minnesota Neuro Training Institute) When tested on people, it showed a decrease in seizure activity after their brains were trained to produce more of a specific brainwave. The people not only were able to control seizures internally, but many also saw improvements in their school work or job performance. This was an exciting, innovative, and revolutionary concept!
There have been many more successful research studies done since that time for various neurological disorders. Research has been validated on people of all ages and is grounded in the most ancient understanding of human growth and development. Over the years, NASA has used neurofeedback in training programs to improve a pilot’s ability to concentrate even in highly stressful situations. (Chicago Mind Solutions)
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