Everyone has felt the discomfort associated with cold hands. But for individuals with Raynaud’s, 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 therapy for Raynaud’s disease has been shown to be highly effective in some cases.
Research by members of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback demonstrates that thermal biofeedback can be 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.
Finding a certified biofeedback therapist is simple. The Biofeedback Certification Institute of America hosts an online provider directory that is the only resource for finding certified practitioners throughout the country. To access the online directory, visit www.bcia.org and click on the Find a Practitioner link at the top of the page. You can search the directory by zip code, state or name.
BCIA is the only organization recognized worldwide granting certification to biofeedback practitioners. BCIA was established in 1981 with the mission of protecting the general public by establishing strict standards for biofeedback practitioners. There are approximately 1,500 health care professionals who currently hold certification in general biofeedback, EEG biofeedback, or pelvic muscle dysfunction. Many clinicians have more than one of these certifications.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) works to advance the development, dissemination and utilization of knowledge about applied psychophysiology and biofeedback. Visit the AAPB Web site at www.aapb.org.
Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB)
10200 W. 44th Ave. #304
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033 www.aapb.org
Editor’s Note: While members have expressed interest in exploring alternative therapies, there is to date no definitive clinical evidence that these treatments can successfully be used to alleviate Raynaud’s symptoms. Research has been hampered by study design issues and the inability to reliably compare findings across trials. We advocate the need for better quality, more consistent study methodologies on alternative treatment options. Please keep in mind that even among clinically-proven treatment measures, no one solution will work for every patient. Please speak with your doctor before trying any of the following treatment strategies.