Biofeedback vs. Neurofeedback – What’s the Difference?

 

Biofeedback and neurofeedback are both complementary medicine tools that have been gaining in popularity more and more with time. While you may have heard of biofeedback and neurofeedback, it is easy to be confused about what these terms really mean and whether or not they actually refer to the same thing.

 

Both of these approaches to improving health and wellness involve training your body to control internal physiological functions. But biofeedback and neurofeedback are not the same thing. They are a part of the same field, but they use different tools and procedures and have unique benefits.

 

So let’s take a closer look at both to help you understand biofeedback vs. neurofeedback.

 

What is biofeedback?

 

Biofeedback is a technique used to help you gain more awareness over the physiological responses in your body. The goal is to train you to have control over some of the functions and responses in your own body that you previously didn’t have control over—such as your blood pressure, heart rate, or muscle activity.1

 

When doing biofeedback training, you are hooked up to various types of monitors that receive information from your body. These might measure temperature, heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, or other functions. That information is then translated back to you and presented in a way that you can understand, such as through sight or sound. For example, you might receive the feedback on what is happening in your body via images on a computer screen or through sounds in headphones.2 3 4

 

By watching or listening to the feedback, you can train yourself to control the responses within your body. A biofeedback therapist will help you through this process. They might teach you how to use relaxation techniques or visualization to change your heart rate or muscle activity, for example.2 Sometimes, the training process is presented as a video game, with positive results if you are able to change your physiology in the desired way.

 

Biofeedback is thought to benefit a wide range of common health conditions and concerns such as:

 

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Epilepsy
  • Constipation
  • ADHD
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pain
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Motion sickness1 2 3 4 5 6

There’s more evidence for the effectiveness of this approach for some conditions compared to others. The strongest research supports biofeedback for urinary incontinence in females, but it is also considered effective for many other conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, constipation, epilepsy, and more.4 5

 

What is neurofeedback?

 

woman putting neurofeedback headset on young girl

 

While these terms may be easily confused, neurofeedback and biofeedback are not to be used interchangeably. So what sets biofeedback and neurofeedback apart? Neurofeedback is a specific subset of biofeedback, which looks specifically at optimizing brainwave activity.

 

Neurofeedback, sometimes also called EEG biofeedback, began in the 1960s and has gained in popularity since then.7 In neurofeedback therapy, you are hooked up to monitors that measure your brain activity on an electroencephalogram (EEG). The information that is measured on the EEG is then fed back to you—similarly to in other forms of biofeedback.

 

The process of neurofeedback uses a reward system to subconsciously teach your brain to function within ideal brainwave ranges that support your health and wellness. It’s similar to looking in a mirror during a dance class or yoga class to improve your posture so that you can fine tune and adjust to optimize your performance. With neurofeedback, you allow your brain to essentially look at itself in the mirror, so that every little change in activity can be recognized and adjusted as needed for optimal performance—with rewards for positive results.5

 

Ultimately, this tool is used to better organize the way the brain shifts between different functions and activities. With neurofeedback training, your brain will be better able to calm down when it is time to rest and sleep or better able to activate and engage when it is time to think critically or solve problems, for example.

 

Research suggests that neurofeedback can be effective for conditions such as:

 

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Learning disabilities
  • Migraines
  • Drug addiction
  • Epilepsy
  • Pain management
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Mental health disorders like schizophrenia
  • And more6 8 9

Findings also suggest that it might be able to help you improve memory, mood, creativity, attention, or other cognitive abilities.7

 

Biofeedback vs. neurofeedback – how are they different and how are they similar?

 

When it comes to biofeedback vs. neurofeedback, there is a key difference. While biofeedback may use any sort of medical equipment to monitor body functions—from a blood pressure cuff to a heart rate monitor to a thermometer—neurofeedback uses just one specific monitor called an EEG machine. With neurofeedback, the focus is solely on brainwave activity and helping the brain to be active in the optimal ranges. Biofeedback, on the other hand, is used for a much larger variety of purposes (for example, to lower your blood pressure, help you control certain muscles, promote digestion, and more).

 

woman checking her heart rate on smartwatch

 

While there is a distinct difference between biofeedback and neurofeedback, they do share much common ground. Both biofeedback and neurofeedback monitor body functions and provide the body feedback from those monitors to train you to achieve your health and wellness goals.

 

And both of these are non-drug, complementary approaches to managing your health issues that are very safe and non-invasive. They are usually used in combination with other modalities in a holistic treatment plan for conditions that may not be easy to treat with standard approaches.1

 

In relation to ZYTO, our biocommunication scanning technology is also a form of biofeedback in that it gathers and presents galvanic skin response data, which an individual can then use to make better decisions for their wellness. Biofeedback is also incorporated along with neurofeedback in our perception reframing technology, which provides energetic feedback that the body is able to absorb and integrate on a subconscious level. In this way, both technologies work together to help people overcome negative habits and limiting beliefs.

 

Regardless of the biofeedback or neurofeedback technology that is being used, it’s important to keep in mind that these tools aren’t used as cure-alls for any certain condition. Instead, they are training processes that can help you to have a better sense of control over your health concerns, which can ultimately increase your well-being and ability to cope.1 10 

 

Getting the most out of biofeedback or neurofeedback training

 

To be successful with biofeedback or neurofeedback, you’ll need to be motivated and engaged with the process and willing to put in the work and time to see results. It is helpful to think of biofeedback and neurofeedback as training processes, rather than treatments. They are much like physical therapy, which requires active participation on your part.1 3 5

 

The monitors and feedback are only designed to be used in the short term. Once you’ve trained yourself how to make the desired changes within your body, the goal is to practice what you’ve learned on your own.

 

After all, the more aware of our internal processes we are—and the more empowered we are to make positive changes that support our own health and wellness—the better.

 

If you are interested in exploring biofeedback or neurofeedback, search for a trained therapist in your area that can help get you started.

 

 

 

Sources:

1. Malik, K., & A. Dua. Biofeedback. (Treasure Island, FL: Statpearls Publishing, 2020).

2. “Biofeedback.” Medline Plus. Medlineplus.gov.

3. “Biofeedback.” Harvard University. Health.harvard.edu.

4. “Biofeedback for Incontinence.” The Regents of the University of California. UCSFHealth.org.

5. Frank, D.L., L. Khorshid, et al. “Biofeedback in medicine: who, when, why and how?” Mental Health in Family Medicine 7, no. 2 (2010): 85–91.

6. Marzbani, H., H.R Marateb, & M. Mansourian. “Neurofeedback: A Comprehensive Review on System Design, Methodology and Clinical Applications.” Basic and Clinical Neuroscience 7, no. 2 (2016):143–158.

7. Omejc, N., B. Rojc, et al. “Review of the therapeutic neurofeedback method using electroencephalography: EEG Neurofeedback.” Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences 19, no. 3 (2019): 213–220.

8. Markiewcz, R. “The use of EEG Biofeedback/Neurofeedback in psychiatric rehabilitation.” target=”_blank” Psychiatria Polska 51, no. 6 (2017):1095-1106.

9. Martic-Biocina S., I. Zivoder, & G. Kozina. “Biofeedback and neurofeedback application in the treatment of migraine.” Psychiatria Danubina 29, Suppl. 3 (2017): 575-577.

10. “Neurofeedback and Biofeedback for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines – An Update.” Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2014).