For many years, doctors have noticed the relationship between stress and illness. Similarly, physicians and psychologists have seen how various stress-mitigating techniques have reduced the incidence of a variety of illnesses and can relieve the symptoms of some sicknesses, including headaches. In fact, patients can be taught to relax their bodies so that their headaches become less frequent and less severe.
One common method for learning such techniques is through biofeedback. The term “biofeedback” means that a person is receiving feedback from his or her body. Doctors use this feedback to help a patient detect the signs that his or her body is relaxing. For example, a physician might attach small temperature sensors to a patient’s fingertips. As the patient relaxes, the fingertips will get warmer. The sensors detect the warmth and feed this information back to the patient in the form of a sound, which changes as the temperature changes. This feedback increases a patient’s awareness of the subtle changes leading to relaxation.
Another biofeedback method involves measuring the brain’s alpha waves. As a person intentionally relaxes, the back of the brain emits more alpha waves, which can be detected through EEG machines connected to the head via electrodes. The increase in alpha wave production can be fed back to the patient in the form of sound changes.
The goal of biofeedback in the context of headache relief is to enable the patient to sense when relaxed and how the body feels as one is achieving that state. This allows the patient to easily reach this state independently and as needed.
If the patient is suffering from a bad headache, biofeedback skills can be used to enter the relaxed state, which will relieve the headache in two ways: the first way is by allowing more blood to enter the extremities, which will reduce the severity of the headache. The second way is by way of relaxing muscles within the head and neck that are contributing to the headache.
With enough practice, a headache sufferer can induce a relaxed state at will and mitigate pain without the use of drugs or other forms of therapy.
[Photo Credit: Army Medicine on Flickr]