Using EMG Biofeedback for Tension
Excess muscle tension can be the source of many headaches. Headache medication sometimes doesn’t work
and often comes along with unwanted side effects, in some cases even inducing
more headaches (rebound headaches) which create a vicious cycle requiring more
medication followed by more headaches.
Tension headache sufferers often don’t realize that they are
holding excess tension in their facial, neck, and upper back muscles. Muscles are intended to generate movement and
maintain posture. Muscles contract to
create movement. When the movement is
completed, the muscle should return to a relaxed state. When muscles remain contracted after movement
is completed the muscle becomes overworked and irritated. This can trigger pain. Tension headache pain usually is triggered by
excess tension in face muscles, including those around the eyes, in the
forehead, scalp, temples, and jaw. The
muscles in the scalp are also connected to the neck and upper back where the source
of the problem may also be found. When
we use EMG biofeedback for tension headaches, adhesive sensors are placed on
the site that we want to record from.
The sites normally used are forehead – frontalis. Sensors are placed across the forehead directly
above the eyebrows (active) and the ground directly above the bridge of the
nose in a straight line. We can
substitute a headband for the adhesive sensors when we are measuring EMG from
the forehead. The sensors are attached
to an EMG biofeedback instrument. Some
of the instruments are self-contained and the feedback information is given by
lights and sounds that indicate even small changes in the level of tension in
the muscles that we are recording from. Other
instruments are connected to a computer and give even more detailed feedback
including line graphs and bar graphs.
The computer systems can also store data and print reports. The person then uses the feedback information
to become more aware of the level of tension and how it changes based on what
they are doing. We can detect tension in
the forehead, around the eyes, in the jaw, tongue, lips, scalp, temples, and
even the throat. The person learns how
to relax all of these muscles through a combination of the direct feedback from
the instrument, relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation, and
the coaching and encouragement provided by the biofeedback therapist. Sessions are provided at the biofeedback provider’s
office 1-3 times per week for 6-20 sessions.
It is strongly recommended that the person also practice muscle
relaxation and control at home. Home
biofeedback instruments may be rented or purchased for this purpose. As the person learns how to notice when they
are tensing their muscles and how to release the tension, the intensity and
frequency of their headaches tends to decrease.
Other biofeedback modalities like skin temperature may also be
used. That’s about it. Unlike medication there are no negative
side-effects. The possible positive
side-effects include less neck, upper back, and jaw pain, better ability to
relax, better muscle control for sports, and more energy. That’s not bad at all!
For more information on biofeedback providers, biofeedback
training, and biofeedback instruments check the following resources:
– A website with resources for personal biofeedback and stress management
products and services
– A website for professional biofeedback equipment and training
www.aapb.org – A website
with information on biofeedback for consumers and professionals
www.bcia.org – A website
with listings of certified biofeedback providers and information on
certification for professionals
www.nrbs.org – A website
with listings of biofeedback providers in the northeast USA as well as other
biofeedback related information
Article by Harry L. Campbell
President, Biofeedback Resources International Corp
Facebook: Biofeedback Resources International
Linked-In Harry L. Campbell
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