What is Neurofeedback? - Grand Teton Chiropractic in Idaho Falls ...
What Is Neurofeedback?
What is Neurofeedback Training?
Neurofeedback Training (also known as E.E.G. Neurofeedback) is a learning strategy
that enables persons to alter their brain waves. When information about a person's own
brain wave characteristics is made available to him, he can learn to change them. You
can think of it as exercise for the brain. Below is a more complete description of the
process and, although it has many applications, references to ADHD (Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder) are frequently used as an example of a typical application.
What are Brain Waves?
Everyone's brain produces electricity. This electricity is a reflection of the normal activity
of each cell as it transfers information to and from other cells. This electrical signal, as
detected by a sensor on the scalp, is tiny (about a 10 one-millionths of a volt, or 10
micro volts) in size. A powerful amplifier is required before instruments can sense the
signals through electroencephalogram (E.E.G.) equipment. These signals are called
brain waves. Although this technology has been used for Neurofeedback for over thirty
years, it has not been until relatively recent times that the lower cost and higher speed
of computer processing power has reached a level that enables this to be accessible to
the public. High speed computing filters out the various brain wave frequency bands
from the background signal, to allow feedback to the trainee instantaneously on the
What does each frequency band mean?
The various frequencies reflect what the area of the brain beneath the sensor is doing.
The patterns and frequencies change with changes in the level of brain arousal. It is
normal for the brain to produce a range of brain waves, from very slow waves to very
Delta waves are an example of very slow waves. These occur during sleep.
Theta waves occur in a pre-sleep drowsy state (most ADHD sufferers produce too
much Theta activity).
Alpha waves occur when we are in a relaxed state (mostly with eyes closed).
Low Beta waves, also known as Sensory Motor Rhythm (SMR) waves, occur when we
are relaxed and attentive.
Mid Beta waves occur when we are active and attentive.
High Beta is associated with being in an anxious state.
Gamma waves are very fast and are associated with being in a peak-performance
Is there an ideal brain wave pattern?
The different brain wave frequencies are not good or bad in themselves (although
unstable patterns - as in the spikes occurring in epilepsy - are not good). All of them
occur all the time, but in different states different frequency bands will dominate. The
normal brain has a good balance (and ability to move) between them. The dysfunctional
brain has either too much of one frequency over another, or a poor transition through
day and night, or a poor ability to shift in response to their environment, or all of the
Why does the training procedure work?
The brain is amazingly adaptable, and capable of learning. It can also learn to improve
its own performance, if only it is given cues about what to change. By making
information available to the brain about how it is functioning, and asking it to make
adjustments, it can do so. When the mature brain is doing a good job of regulating itself,
and the person is alert and attentive, the brain waves (E.E.G.) show a particular pattern.
We challenge the person to maintain this "high-performance", alert and attentive state.
Gradually, the brain learns, just like it learns anything else. And like with other learning,
the brain tends to retain the new skill. We observe that if the E.E.G. is not well behaved
there may be adverse impacts on learning ability, on moods, on sleep, and on behavior.
With training, these may be gradually brought under control, along with normalization of
the E.E.G.. In ADHD, for example, the brain produces Beta wave activity only when the
person finds a task to be very interesting (such as while playing a video game), then
they can concentrate for hours (like others normally can). However, give them
something to do that is not so interesting (such as schoolwork) and their brain switches
to Theta wave activity (too many slow brain waves) and they become quite drowsy.
Stimulant medication raises the brain's activity level (to the more alert Beta
range) for a few hours at a time, allowing them to concentrate on the schoolwork.
Neurofeedback works by exercising and training the brain to function at the appropriate
brain wave levels all on its own.
How was its usefulness discovered?
The usefulness of Neurofeedback was discovered accidentally. In the late 1960's
Professor Barry Sterman, a neuroscientist at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine, studied
brain waves in cats. It was found that cats could be trained to increase their SMR brain
waves through operant conditioning (by giving them rewards whenever they happened
to be producing such a rhythm). When those experiments were concluded, those and
other cats were used in an experiment to investigate how hydrazine fuel, used in fighter
planes and early manned space flights, may have produced seizures in pilots.
Inexplicably some of the cats seemed resistant to the seizure-producing effect of the
chemical … those were the cats that had been trained during the earlier research to
increase SMR brain waves. Sterman applied this finding to humans. He experimented
with a group with severe epilepsy who had not responded to medical treatment. Using
Neurofeedback training to increase SMR, over 60% of the intractable epileptics were
able to significantly reduce seizures by 60%, both during the day and during sleep and,
also, the quality of their sleep improved. The findings were independently replicated
several times. Many of the patients also reported reductions in hyperactive symptoms
and improvements in concentration. This lead to its use with ADHD, and then other
conditions influenced by the functioning of the brain.
What is it used for?
Neurofeedback is used for many conditions and disabilities in which the brain is not
working as well as it might. These include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD) and more severe conduct problems, specific learning disabilities and related
issues such as sleep problems and bed-wetting in children, teeth grinding, pre-
menstrual syndrome, chronic pain such as frequent headaches, stomach pain or
pediatric migraines, the control of mood disorders such as anxiety, depression and
bipolar disorder, substance abuse (alcohol and other drugs), as well as for conditions
such as epilepsy, the consequences of head injury (regarding mood, attention and
memory), chronic fatigue, autism, Tourette syndrome, posttraumatic stress and cerebral
palsy. Clinical studies and case reports are readily available to the public. Some
references are listed at the end of this report.
How can it make so many claims?
Neurofeedback does not make many claims, it makes only one claim. The claim is that
we are working with the arousal dynamics of the brain and everything we achieve
follows from improved self-regulation of those dynamics.
Underarousal produces disorders such as ADHD and DEPRESSION.
Overarousal produces disorders like ANXIETY and PANIC ATTACK.
Disorders that are typically due to
Arousal Instability include SEIZURE DISORDERS and MIGRAINES.
Chiropractic adjustments can reduce arousal through gentle, low force techniques that
relax the nerve system. Other chiropractic techniques utilize various amounts of force to
stabilize or increase nerve system arousal. Medications can do all three options but the
brain returns to its usual state when the medications wear off, and most have
unpleasant side effects.
The purpose of Neurofeedback Training in our office is to help the nerve system
memorize new patterns of brain activity so that the positive affects of the
adjustment can become permanent.
How is it done?
The Neurofeedback training is a painless, non-invasive procedure. One or more
sensors are placed on the scalp, and one to each ear. The brain waves are monitored
by means of an amplifier and a computer-based instrument (InVision) that processes
the signal and provides the proper feedback. This is displayed to the trainee by means
of a video game or other video display, along with audio signals. The trainee is asked to
make the video game go with his/her brain. As activity in a desirable frequency band
increases, the video game moves faster, or some other reward is given. As activity in an
adverse band increases, the video game is inhibited. Gradually, the brain responds to
the cues that it is being given, and a "learning" of new brain wave patterns takes place.
The new pattern is one that is closer to what is normally observed in individuals without
An initial interview is done to obtain a description of symptoms, and to get a picture of
the health history and family history. Some testing may be done as well, such as with
the InVision Stress Test This all may take about one to one and a half hours. In
subsequent sessions, twenty minutes of training is usually done in a thirty minute
consultation and these are conducted from one to five (usually three) times per week.
Some improvement is generally seen within ten sessions. Once learning is consolidated
(through further training), the benefits are long lasting in most cases.
What results do we obtain?
In the case of ADHD, impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity may all respond to the
training alone. This may lead to much more successful school performance.
Conservatively, 65% to 75% of ADHD trainees are expected to achieve significant
benefit from Neurofeedback. Cognitive function may improve as well. In several
controlled studies, increases of 10 points in IQ score were found for a representative
group of ADHD children. And in two clinical studies, an average increase of 19 and 23
points was demonstrated. When combined with chiropractic adjustments we have found
that the results stated above are even more impressive. Behavior may improve in other
ways as well: If the child has a lot of temper tantrums, is belligerent, and even violent or
cruel, these aspects of behavior may come under the child's control. In the case of
depression, there can be a gradual recovery of "affect", or emotional responsiveness,
and a reduction of effort fatigue. In the case of anxiety and panic attacks, there is
gradual improvement in "regulation", with a drop off in frequency and severity of anxiety
episodes and panic attacks until the condition normalizes.
In the case of epilepsy, we observe a reduction in severity and incidence (frequency of
occurrence) of seizures. In many cases the dosage of anticonvulsant medication may
ultimately be reduced (if ordered by the referring neurologist), and side effects of such
medication may diminish
Can a successful outcome be predicted?
It is not possible to predict with certainty that training will be successful for a particular
condition. But for the more common conditions, a reasonable prediction of outcome is
usually possible. More important, however, the effectiveness of the training can usually
be assessed early in the course of training.
How long does training normally take?
E.E.G. training is a learning process, and therefore results are seen gradually over time.
For most conditions, initial progress can be seen within about ten to fifteen sessions.
The next ten sessions produce strong learning and a further ten sessions are usually
needed to consolidate the learning so that it becomes ingrained. In the case of ADHD,
the initial training goals may be met by twenty sessions, at which time a reassessment
is usually performed. Complete training is expected to take about thirty to forty sessions
for the gains to be retained (or even more in severe cases). Teeth grinding usually
responds in twenty sessions. Some symptoms of head injury often respond in less than
twenty sessions (quality of sleep; fatigue; chronic pain), whereas others may require
longer training before they show an initial response (memory function, for example).
Degenerative or chronic conditions, such as chronic fatigue, would benefit from ongoing
How frequent should the training sessions be?
In the initial stages of learning, the sessions should be regular and frequent, at two,
three, or even more sessions per week. After learning begins to consolidate, the pace
can be reduced. Daily sessions can be very beneficial as well.
Tansey, M.A., and Livingston, N.J. Wechsler (WISC-R) [IQ test] changes following
treatment of Learning Disabilities via EEG Neurofeedback Training in a private practice
Journal of Psychology, 1991, Vol 43, 147-153.
Rossiter, T.R. and La Vaque, T.J. A Comparison of EEG Neurofeedback and
Psychostimulants in Treating Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders. Journal of
Neurotherapy, 1995, Vol 1 No 1.
Lubar, J.F. and Bahler, W.W. (1976). Behavioral management of epileptic seizures
following Neurofeedback training of the sensorimotor rhythm. Neurofeedback and Self-
Regulation, 1, pp.77-104.
Lubar, J.F. and Shouse, M.N (1976). EEG and behavioral changes in a hyperactive
child concurrent training of the sensorimotor rhythm (SMR): A preliminary report.
Neurofeedback and Self-Regulation, 1, pp.293-306.
Lubar, J.O. and Lubar, J.F. (1984). Electroencephalographic Neurofeedback of SMR
and beta for treatment of attention deficit disorder in a clinical setting. Neurofeedback
and Self-Regulation, 9, pp.1-23.
Shouse, M.N. and Lubar, J.F. (1979). Operant conditioning of EEG rhythms and Ritalin
in the treatment of hyperkinesis. Neurofeedback and Self-Regulation, 4, pp.301-312.
Ayers, M.E. (1994). A controlled study of EEG neurofeedback and physical therapy with
pediatric stroke, age seven months to age fifteen, occurring prior to birth. Presentation
at 1994 Society for the Study of Neuronal Regulation, Las Vegas NV.