Muscle biofeedback makes the invisible visible

“I feel much more relaxed and realize now how unaware I was of the unnecessary tension I’ve been holding”  is a common response after muscle biofeedback training. Many people experience  exhaustion, stiffness, tightness, neck, shoulder and back pain while working long hours at the computer or while exercising.  As we get older, we assume that discomforts are the result of aging. You just have to accept it and live with it–grin and bear it–or you need to be more careful while doing your job or performing your hobby.  The discomfort in many cases is the result of misuse of your body.  Observes what happens when you perform the following experiential practice Threading the needle.

Perform this task so that an observer would think it was real and would not know that you are only simulating threading a needle.

Imagine that you are threading a needle — really imagine it by picturing it in your mind and acting it out. Hold the needle between your left thumb and index finger. Hold the thread between the thumb and index finger of your right hand. Bring the tip of the thread to your mouth and put it between your lips to moisten it and make it into a sharp point. Then attempt to thread the needle, which has a very small eye. The thread is almost as thick as the eye of the needle.

As you are concentrating on threading this imaginary needle, observed what happened? While acting out the imagery, did you raise or tighten your shoulders, stiffen your trunk, clench your teeth, hold your breath or stare at the thread and needle without blinking?

Most people are surprised that they have tightened their shoulders and braced their trunk while threading the needle.  Awareness only occurred after their attention was directed to the covert muscle bracing patterns.

In many cases muscles are tense even though the person senses and feels that they are relaxed.  This lack of awareness can be resolved with muscle biofeedback–it makes invisible visible.  Muscle biofeedback (electromyographic feedback) is used to monitor the muscle activity, teach the person awareness of the previously unperceived muscle tension and  learn relax and control it. For more information of the use of muscle biofeedback to   improve health and performance at work or in the gym, see the published chapter, I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control, by Richard Harvey and Erik Peper. It was published in W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.). (2012), Case studies in applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments for advances in human performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 144-159.

3 Comments on “Muscle biofeedback makes the invisible visible”

  1. mrsportpsych says:

    Congratulations Erik, for winning the award for cutting physical injuries and costs at SFSU!
    Unique safety program wins governor’s award

    October 12, 2004

    Photo of staff member Sarah Chaput with a biofeedback machine attached to her right arm listening to Erik Peper, director of holistic healing studies, describe proper posture for healthful computingThe Ergonomic Safety Program Team at SFSU was recently awarded Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Employee Safety Award for its groundbreaking program that helps employees practice healthy computing habits.

    The six-week program, offered every spring, combines basic ergonomic principles with instructions on how to break unhealthful work habits. Staff members who complete the two-hour-per-week training become coaches equipped with the knowledge and skills to train their co-workers or employees. As of today, more than 150 employees have been trained.

    “There is no other campus I know of in the CSU that has a program in which employees train other employees,” said Michael Martin, director of risk management. “SFSU’s Ergonomic Safety Program is relationship driven and ongoing, and through the program we have completely eliminated all of the back-logged requests from employees regarding pain or discomfort resulting from work. We have helped hundreds of employees on the campus.”

    Through the use of biofeedback monitors, they learn to gauge unnecessary and excessive muscle tension in the arms, neck, wrists and shoulders, which commonly occurs while computing. They also learn how a workstation should be set up to avoid excessive strain on the muscles and eyes. In addition, they are taught healthy computing habits, such as taking breaks and breathing deeply.

    The program includes many quick tips — from dropping the hands to the lap every 30 seconds to blinking at the end of sentences — which computer users can incorporate into their daily routines. Developing healthful work habits is very important, says holistic healing studies director Erik Peper who helped create the program.

    “Just because you’re sitting in the best ergonomic position doesn’t mean inside you’re doing the right things,” Peper said. “We developed the program to incorporate self awareness so that behaviors change — because so many of us get busy and forget about our bodies while we work.”

    Since completing the training and receiving an ergonomic adjustment last spring, Advancement services coordinator Patricia Okamoto says the arm pain she had been experiencing disappeared.

    “Adjustments to my work space and taking breaks have made all the difference,” Okamoto said. “Now that I have completed the training I’m ready to train other employees. My confidence in the program — due to how much it has improved the way I feel — really helps with my approach to coaching others.”

  2. Eric
    Thanks for the site…good information! Jinny

  3. see says:

    Hello, just wanted to say, I loved this blog post.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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