Steps Toward Developing an EEG Biofeedback Treatment for Chronic Pain

Abstract

Chronic pain, usually refractory to analgesics, is a significant problem for many individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). Preliminary studies suggest that electroencephalography (EEG) biofeedback (also known as neurofeedback, NF) has the potential to help patients with otherwise refractory chronic pain. However, there remain many unanswered questions about the effects and mechanisms of this treatment. We studied 13 individuals with SCI and chronic pain with NF. Ten of the 13 individuals completed 4 sessions each of three different neurofeedback protocols assigned in random order for a total of 12 NF sessions. All three protocols had similar immediate effects on pain intensity. In addition, the participants reported modest pre- to post-treatment decreases in worst pain and pain unpleasantness following completion of the 12 NF sessions. These improvements were maintained at 3-month follow-up. The majority of the participants felt they benefited from and were satisfied with the treatment. No significant effects on measures of other outcome domains (sleep quality, pain interference and fatigue) were observed, although there was a non-significant trend for an increase in fatigue. Finally, pre- to post-treatment changes in EEG bandwidth activity, consistent with the training protocols, were observed in θ and α but not β frequencies. The findings provide preliminary support for the potential efficacy of NF for the treatment of SCI-related pain, and suggest that further clinical studies are warranted.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a research grant from the Craig H. Neilsen foundation.

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Correspondence to Mark P. Jensen.

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Jensen, M.P., Gertz, K.J., Kupper, A.E. et al. Steps Toward Developing an EEG Biofeedback Treatment for Chronic Pain. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 38, 101–108 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-013-9214-9

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Keywords

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Chronic pain
  • Neurofeedback