Everyone has felt the discomfort associated with cold hands. But for individuals with Raynaud’s Disease, cold weather and/or stress can cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to coldness, numbness, color change, throbbing and swelling of extremities including fingers and toes. Biofeedback has been shown to be highly effective in treating Raynaud’s Disease. Research by members of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback demonstrates that thermal biofeedback is especially effective in the treatment of primary Raynaud’s Disease, with some reports indicating that 80-90% of patients report improved circulation and a reduced frequency of symptoms.
Raynaud’s Disease is a syndrome of the circulatory system, not of the skin. Small vessels that typically feed the skin with oxygen and warm blood constrict through a process called “vasospasm.” Because blood is not flowing freely to the extremities they turn white, then blue, and become cold and numb. Vasospasms are brought on by stress and cold, making winter especially difficult for those with the disease. Sufferers face two challenges: 1) to reduce the stress that might cause the initial vasoconstriction, and 2) to reverse the constriction once it occurs.
Biofeedback is a mind-body technique using electronic instruments to help individuals gain awareness and control over their body and mind. During biofeedback sessions, instruments measure muscle activity, skin temperature, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, brain electrical activity and/or blood flow. For thermal biofeedback, a thermistor is gently attached to the hand, foot or other clinically indicated site with a small piece of tape in order to measure peripheral skin temperature. Patients learn to control the constriction and dilation of their blood vessels during about 20 training sessions.
For more information, visit the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America, http://www.bcia.org.
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