Alternative Medicine Use on the Rise in U.S.

Alternative medicine use on the rise in U.S.

The National Health Interview Survey reports that in 2007 $33.9 billion out-of-pocket dollars were spent on CAM in the U.S. That’s compared to $286.6 billion out-of-pocket dollars spent on conventional medicine and is 11.2 percent of total out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

CAM includes such things as acupuncture, biofeedback and neurofeedback, chiropractic, herbal supplements, meditation, and various forms of relaxation therapy that are not routinely considered to be part of conventional medicine.

The survey found that 38 percent of adults use some form of CAM every year, spending an estimated $12 billion on 354 yearly visits to CAM practitioners. That’s an increase compared to the last time the data was compiled in 2002.

Among the therapies being used more often are biofeedback, deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga – all things that encourage a mind-body connection. The therapies that are not being used as often include tai chi, progressive muscle relaxation and energy healing therapies.

What exactly is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback training teaches how to consciously change and control the body’s vital functions that are normally unconscious, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, through information provided by electronic devices.

Biofeedback is a relatively new field. It was only during the late 1960’s that scientists believed that these normally unconscious, autonomic functions could be voluntarily controlled. Barbara Brown, Ph.D., at the Veterans Administration Hospital in California, Elmer Green, Ph.D, and Alyce Green of the Menninger Foundation in Kansas first used EEG biofeedback to observe the various states of people practicing yoga. Another person who was instrumental in bringing biofeedback to the public attention is Joe Kamiya, who taught subjects how to attain states of euphoria without drugs.

Biofeedback is currently used by physicians, physiologists, kinesiologists, and psychologists.

How Biofeedback Works

Electrodes, which look like stickers with wires attached to them, are placed on the client’s skin. The client is then instructed to use relaxation, meditation, or visualization to bring about the desired response, whether it is muscle relaxation, lowered heart rate, or lower temperature. The biofeedback device reports progress by a change in the speed of beeps or flashes, or pitch or quality of the tone.

The results of biofeedback are measured in the following ways:

• skin temperature
• electrical conductivity of the skin, called the glavanic skin response
• muscle tension, with an electromyograph (EMG)
• heart rate, with an electrocardiograph (ECG)
• brain-wave activity, with an electroencephalograph{EEG)

Conditions Treated by Biofeedback

Biofeedback is particularly useful with can help with stress-related conditions where there is sympathetic or adrenal stress. It is also useful for conditions where there is inadequate control over muscle groups or muscle dysfunction. Conditions treated with biofeedback include:

• stress
• headaches
• asthma
• muscle injury
• pain relief
• insomnia
• TMJ
• high blood pressure
• digestive disorders
• attention deficit disorder
• incontinence
• poor posture
• tennis elbow
• golfer’s elbow
• irritable bowel syndrome
• hyperactivity
• Raynaud’s disease
• ringing of the ears
• constipation
• twitching of the eyelids
• esophageal dysfunction

Biofeedback is the Best Stress-Buster for Students


DES MOINES – Iowa State University has opened a Biofeedback Center for students to help them deal with stress.

Directed by Student Counseling Service staff psychologist Todd Pietruszka, the center is free and open to all ISU students.

The university is first of the three Regents’ universities to offer a biofeedback service to address students’ emotional needs.

The center has adopted technologies like video games and guided meditations to teach relaxation techniques, concentration skills and healthy coping responses.

It also teaches people to become aware of their physiological responses, while providing techniques like deep breathing, visualization or mindfulness, to consciously reset the body’s conditioned responses.

Pietruszka said: “Biofeedback is a fancy name. It really means getting information about your physical responses and using that information to take action.

“For example, when you take your temperature and find you have a fever, you might call the doctor.”

The compact room of the center has three massage recliners, each facing its own wall-mounted computer monitor.

Students begin with an orientation session that explains how to check out and use the equipment, and how to navigate the computer programs.

During a biofeedback session, the room is quiet and darkened as the students sit in the recliners wearing noise-cancelling headphones and fingertip sensors, which measure skin conductance and heart rate.

Three choices of computer software offer a variety of self-guided, interactive programs.

As students practice the relaxation techniques presented, they can watch real-time graphs of their physiological responses.

This information helps them identify the activities that work best for them. Once mastered, they can use the techniques whenever needed-before taking a test or giving a class presentation, for example.

Sessions last from 15 minutes to an hour or more.

Pietruszka said: “The training module teaches how to become aware of your body, how to use breathing, how to become mindful of your thoughts.

“As you practice and use the tools and get feedback, you can see what works for you.

“Biofeedback is really a way to have a coach. It basically lets you know when relaxation techniques are working.”

Iowa State’s Information Technology Services’ Computation Advisory Committee’s fund of 4,654 dollars helped establish the center.