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Biofeedback Journey

Have you ever tried biofeedback? During the first appointment with my Migraine specialist, he recommended biofeedback. I’d heard a little about it, but never looked into it or read too much about it.

Basically, biofeedback uses monitoring in order to train you to gain control over some of your involuntary processes. It is a way to improve your health by using signals from your body. They connect you to sensors that measure relaxation to produce reduced muscle tension and normalized blood flow.

Where do you start looking for someone to help you learn biofeedback? I started with the list of providers my insurance company had on their website. When I called, most of them had a full practice or a long waiting list. I put myself on a few of those lists, but no one ever called back. After going through the list a second time, I finally received a call back from one of the therapists.

During our conversation, he said he loved working with Migraine patients and I got excited until he said he even “cured” some Migraineurs. Ugh, I know there is no current cure for Migraines as it is a genetic neurological disease which needs much more research before a cure will be found. I let his red flag remark go because quite frankly, he was my only hope at the time and I figured I could learn what he had to teach.

All I can really say is that he was a unique therapist. During our sessions, he wanted me to stress myself out so he could show me how his monitoring programs worked. Warming is one of the exercises you do in biofeedback where you tape a stress thermometer to the end of your finger and try to make your fingertips warm up without rubbing them together or anything like that. As you relax, the blood flow should return to your fingers which will make its temperature rise. If you get scared or tense up, the blood should pull away from your extremities and make your finger temperature fall.

I let him know that there was a few times where my temperature rose quickly when I expected it to cool down. I joked that maybe my wires were crossed and he seriously considered that as an option and never discounted it. My final straw was when he kept talking about cures and causes despite me telling him there is currently no cure for Migraines and the cause is that it is a genetic neurological disease. He actually blew up at me a few times during our visit.

Needless to say, I never went back to him. Biofeedback is supposed to lower our stress; not increase it. I found myself again trying to find another therapist. I went back to the list of providers from my insurance company and basically received the same results as the first leg of my biofeedback journey. However this time while talking with one of the therapists, he told me about someone who could probably take me as she was just starting up her practice again. She had been in a very bad accident and was not able to work for a long time.

I talked several times on the phone to this new therapists and it seemed like we would really hit it off. As my first session started, I realized that I was her first and only patient. She purchased a few new biofeedback programs for her rekindling practice, but she didn’t know how to use them. She would tell me that she practiced these programs before each session on either herself or some other family member.

I’m all about giving someone a chance to grow, learn and to help them, but it eventually got to the point where there was too much fumbling around and it was apparent she still didn’t know how to use the equipment. There was also something in the back of my mind which she had mentioned during our first visit which always lingered warily with me.

During the first session, we went over my prior biofeedback experience. She couldn’t believe some of the things that happened and said a therapist should never have a Migraineur purposefully stress themselves out. As we were talking, I could tell she was getting more and more intrigued about the therapist and she thought she might know him.

When I told her his name, she said that he actually learned biofeedback from her and he was very good back then. What were the odds of that happening? They were about 30 miles away from each other and she also said that they used to travel a lot together to go to biofeedback conferences. What really made my spidey senses tingle was when she started telling me personal things about him. He started having financial issues and he was in a very rocky marriage along with some other things that made me wonder if this was somehow unethical behavior on her part.

I really wanted to make this biofeedback stuff work. I’d already gone to about seven sessions between my two biofeedback attempts. My Migraine specialist expected me to follow his suggestions and I still felt like I really had not given it a proper try yet.

My third and last ditch effort was that I would make the trip to my doctor’s office where they provided biofeedback services. I figured they must know what they’re doing and that if this didn’t work, it would never work. It takes about three hours each way for me to get to his office which is why I didn’t start there in the first place. Luckily, we worked together so I could take double sessions when I went.

I have to tell you, going to a therapist that knows biofeedback and Migraines made such a big difference than trying to work with my first two therapists. I also confess that I tested her when I asked her if biofeedback could cure my Migraines.

She gave the right answer when she said there is currently no cure and went through the same speech I usually give. I asked her if my wires were crossed because my temperature would climb in situations when I would have expected it to fall. She told me stories of others who re-act the same way I do and how there were even studies done on people who would warm when they should have cooled. It made me feel like I wasn’t so backwards or weird anymore.

My recommendation would be to go to someone who really knows what they are doing with both biofeedback and Migraines so you can learn peacefully from someone who understands. I always found biofeedback to be relaxing, but like many, I ended up moving away from practicing my biofeedback techniques.

Over the last few months, my blood pressure has been very high for me. I recently had another appointment with my Migraine specialist and I didn’t want to have another high reading during my visit. I ended up practicing my biofeedback techniques on my whole drive down to my doctor’s office. I couldn’t believe how low my blood pressure for this visit! Biofeedback really can help; it may not be a cure, but if it helps you at all, it’s worth the effort. I know I must get back to regularly practicing my biofeedback techniques as I proved to myself that it really can help some involuntary processes.

Have you tried biofeedback? What was your experience like? What kind of obstacles did you need to overcome during your journey?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • taralane
    5 years ago

    Annie – I am glad you finally had a good biofeedback experience! I did biofeedback first about 35 years ago, and then again last summer. My insurance only covered 12 sessions, so I did not have an opportunity to continue with the training for any great length of time. My practitioner was knowledgable, and explained everything really clearly. I wish I had had more time with him, because I was just getting the hang of it when my sessions ran out.

    I cannot say that it has helped my chronic migraine pain all that much, but in day to day living it has helped me to relax when I feel myself getting too “tight” – especially in the shoulders and back. Just that much is enough for me to say it was worthwhile.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Annie- your story was painful! It reminds me of all the doctors that I’ve been to that weren’t helpful. I’m glad you were eventually able to find someone who knew what they were talking about and could really show you how biofeedback could work.

    I was lucky enough to find the right practioner the first time I tried biofeedback about 2 years ago. I stuck with it for about 6 months and found it very helpful. I do not currently use it everyday, but between yoga, meditation and what I learned in biofeedback I have found my own way of connecting with my body to manage the Migraines.

    Dave gave some great information on biofeedback for anyone who is interested. Thanks!
    -Katie

  • Annie author
    5 years ago

    Dave – Thank you for all of your information. You really have no reason to apologize for the therapists I went to though.

    You are so right, everyone is so different – just like Migraine medications where there is no one magic pill that works on everyone, biofeedback won’t work for everyone either. I know I would get so much more from biofeedback if I were to practice more.

    Also like Migraine doctors, not all that are certified in headaches should be treating patients who depend on them. The female therapist I saw was on the bcia list of practioners while the male therapist was on both the bcia and aapb lists.

    I hope my 2nd therapist has been able to get to know her programs better. I was at the point where I needed to learn and couldn’t wait for her to come up to speed. She seemed to know what she was talking about; just couldn’t work the equipment.

    I also hope the 1st therapist has been able to get past his hurdles. I think he used to be good, but that he was under a lot of stresses (which was confirmed by the 2nd therapist) and couldn’t process everything. I know I didn’t deserve to get yelled at or talked to the way he did and hope that other patients aren’t put off of biofeedback if they encounter someone similar.

    You sound like someone who is a true asset to the biofeedback field. Thank you again.

  • SouthFloridaBiofeedbackDotCom
    5 years ago

    Hi Annie,

    I just read your post, and wanted to Apologize for the experiences you endured on your journey to learn and benefit from biofeedback. Biofeedback is an amazing tool for many many people, yet it is indeed no panacea. There is much research that documents what it can.. and cannot do, and if you go to the aapb.org (the biofeedback society most highly regarded in the mainstream medical world) you will find this out in its efficacy reports. Mostly, biofeedback is a learning process and like all sorts of learning, some people do better with it and others can’t seem to get it at all. There are many complex reasons for this, of course. Talent, technique, teachers, genetics, symptoms and many other reasons.. I am glad to hear in the end, you were helped to some extent by it. I have been working with biofeedback since the 1970s, and have watched hundreds of migraine sufferers improve greatly after learning it. The research indicates up to 80% of sufferers can find significant relief. (Yucha-Gilbert, Evidence-Based Practice in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback, p.22) That said, it is definitely no “cure” and by using the resources of the mainstream clinical and biofeedback community, people can best find practitioners who are credentialed by the bcia.org, which is extremely rigorous and well respected. Other great sources of info and referrals are the isnr.org, and bfe.org. I moderate the biofeedback groups on Facebook and Linkedin, if anyone wants to discuss biofeedback more with serious practitioners working in the medical community.

    Best to you and others dealing with migraines,

    Dave Newman

    Former Director of the Northeast Regional Biofeedback Society

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