Pain and Willpower: Biofeedback

Knoji reviews products and up-and-coming brands we think you'll love. In certain cases, we may receive a commission from brands mentioned in our guides. Learn more.
A new way to deal with pain is biofeedback, using willpower to influence bodily signals. The research concerning this phenomenon is still very new and needs more work, but this article details what is already done and what the potential could be.

More than Pills

Pills are not the only way to deal with pain. Brain activity can be influenced in other ways as well. In mapping the pain matrix, researchers bumped into other promising alternatives to deal with pain, such as biofeedback. In a biofeedback treatment, patients are shown measurements of their body signals, such as brain activity or heart rate, on a computer screen. Subsequently, they are ‘trained’ to try and influence the value of these signals.

This technique, however, has a somewhat doubtful reputation and solid proof for its effectiveness is not that easy to find.

Biofeedback and Pain

Could this technique potentially be helpful in dealing with pain? Recent research has been trying to answer this question. To test this, a video screen, showing a burning flame, was attached to the inside of an MRI scanner.

During some experiments, this flame increased or decreased in size in correspondence with the activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, a brain area that is thought to play an important role in the conscious perception of pain. During other experiments, the test subjects received fake feedback.

All test subjects in the MRI scanner were asked to try and do a conscious effort to reduce the size of the flame.

Seeing Pain

The results of the test showed that the test subjects who were watching and trying to influence actual brain activity, were more able to suppress their subjective feelings of pain than those who were tricked with fake feedback. The technique appears to work in both patient suffering from a condition with chronic pain and healthy volunteers who were subjected to mild pain stimuli.

It seems that being able to ‘see’ pain can be a powerful tool to get a grip on it. It is hoped that after long practice, people will be able to somewhat control their subjective feelings of pain without the help of visualization tools, but by doing a conscious effort to control the pain, based on what they have learned with the aid of the visualization.


  • deCharms, R.C.; Maeda, F.; Glover, G.H.; Ludlow, D.; Pauly, J.M.; Soneji, D.; Gabrieli, J.D.E. & Mackey, S.C. (2005). Control over brain activation and pain learned by using real-time functional MRI. PNAS. 102(51), pp. 18626 – 18631.
  • Neblett, R.; Mayer, T.G.; Brede, E.M.N.; Gatchel, R.J. (2010). Correcting Abnormal Flexion-relaxation in Chronic Lumbar Pain: Responsiveness to a New Biofeedback Training Protocol. Clinical Journal of Pain. 26(5), pp. 403 – 409.


Add a comment

0 answers +0 votes
Post comment Cancel

About This Article


Explore Top Health & Medical Advice Stores

Psychology Today Review Compare Psychology Today vs. top competitors See Psychology Today Coupon Codes Review Compare vs. top competitors See Coupons Marie Claire Review Compare Marie Claire vs. top competitors See Marie Claire Promo Codes Philips Lifeline Review Compare Philips Lifeline vs. top competitors See 4 Philips Lifeline Promo Codes ADT Health Review Compare ADT Health vs. top competitors See ADT Health Discount Codes Wellness Mama Review Compare Wellness Mama vs. top competitors See Wellness Mama Coupons MedBroadcast Review Compare MedBroadcast vs. top competitors See MedBroadcast Discount Codes Bel Marra Nutritionals Review Compare Bel Marra Nutritionals vs. top competitors See 3 Bel Marra Nutritionals Promo Codes Dr. Sinatra Review Compare Dr. Sinatra vs. top competitors See 74 Dr. Sinatra Discount Codes PatientsLikeMe Review Compare PatientsLikeMe vs. top competitors See PatientsLikeMe Promo Codes Dr. Whitaker Review Compare Dr. Whitaker vs. top competitors See 77 Dr. Whitaker Coupons Teladoc Review Compare Teladoc vs. top competitors See Teladoc Discount Codes Cardinal Health Review Compare Cardinal Health vs. top competitors See Cardinal Health Promo Codes Dr. Hyman Healthy Living Store Review Compare Dr. Hyman Healthy Living Store vs. top competitors See 2 Dr. Hyman Healthy Living Store Coupon Codes Request A Test Review Compare Request A Test vs. top competitors See 7 Request A Test Promo Codes Invite Health Review Compare Invite Health vs. top competitors See 39 Invite Health Promo Codes uBiome Review Compare uBiome vs. top competitors See 2 uBiome Coupon Codes Top-ranked health & medical advice stores >>