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Biofeedback for Concussion Treatment


Concussion can result in a variety of symptoms that may persist and hinder recovery. One reason for the persistent symptoms is that concussion produces dysfunction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems due to cerebrovascular reactivity.  Biofeedback is one way to correct the dysfunction, reduce the symptoms, and speed recovery.

What is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a treatment that can help you control your physical body states, such as your skin temperature, muscle tension, pulse rate, and heart rate. These states are usually not conscious and you are usually unaware of them. During biofeedback, you receive continuous information about these states (feedback about your body) while you work with the therapist to relax, control, and ultimately learn how to change these states.

Biofeedback has been shown to provide symptom relief of general stress as well as of the following disorders: tension headache, migraine, hypertension, insomnia, spastic colon, muscle spasms, anxiety, phobia, asthma, chronic pain, Raynaud's syndrome, panic, GI disorders, TMJ, and CONCUSSION.

What are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems?

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are part of your overall autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when you need to "rev" up for physical activity and is known for the "fight or flight" response. The parasympathetic nervous system works differently to bring your body back to a state of rest, slowing it down. These two systems can be impaired by concussion, resulting in symptoms such as difficulty with focus, attention, and concentration, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, nervousness, fatigue, and lack of physical stamina.

How does Biofeedback help?

The biofeedback therapist helps the patient learn to regulate heart rate (as well as other body functions) to enhance the parasympathetic response. By normalizing the heart rate, parasympathetic activity is increased, leading to a greater sense of well-being and reduced symptoms. 

How long does Biofeedback take?

The length of treatment will vary depending on the individual. Each session is approximately 45 minutes long. The first session is the Consultation Session in which the therapist will conduct a thorough interview to better understand your injury and difficulties and to formulate a treatment plan. The second session is the Baseline Session in which the therapist will record your body state measures, begin to set target goals, and you will become familiar with the procedures. The third session is the Practice Session, in which you will begin to learn and apply techniques to normalize your heart rate, and/or other body states. Most individuals plan to attend biofeedback session once or twice per week for at least a total of 10 sessions in order to experience improvement. Importantly, once you learn the techniques, you will apply them in your everyday life and they will become life-long skills. 

Biofeedback can be a powerful treatment tool, it requires the cooperation of the patient to engage in, and practice, certain techniques demonstrated by the therapist. As with any concussion treatments, it may not be a cure-all, it is not a guarantee of full recovery, and is but one tool to assist in recovery. 

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