EMG Biofeedback for Tension Headaches

Posted in NetCasts by biofeedbackresources on September 25th, 2012

Using EMG Biofeedback for Tension Headaches


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:

www.mindbodydevices.com – A website with resources for personal biofeedback and stress management products and services

www.biofeedbackinternational.com – 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


Email: Harry@biofeedbackinternational.com

Twitter: Biofeedbackman

Facebook: Biofeedback Resources International

Linked-In Harry L. Campbell


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