Muscle Tension and Pain

15 August 2008
– a BioFeedBack Resources International email newsletter –
written & edited by Harry L. Campbell, President
technical editing and production by Edwin Johnson

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Inside this issue:

  1. Muscle Tension and Pain – by Harry Campbell
  2. Announcements

I. Muscle Tension and Pain – Harry Campbell
A business man came to me last week to get a portable EMG trainer for himself. He had worked with professional biofeedback practitioners before. It was helpful for him. He had most recently been using skin conductance but believed that it wasn’t meeting his current need. He was feeling symptoms of physical tension and pain. Through discussions with his doctor and later with me, he came to believe that he needed something that would help him more directly relax his muscles.

This reminded me of the many years that I provided biofeedback for people who had been involved in car accidents. Many of them suffered from tension headaches, neck, back, arm, and leg pain. The medical doctor in the practice often prescribed muscle relaxant medications. This helped but made the patients feel very lethargic. Some commented that even though they felt physically able to do household chores, they didn’t feel like doing anything but lying on the couch and watching T.V. or sleeping. I used this information to help explain how EMG biofeedback might help reduce their pain symptoms.

I explained that the muscle relaxant that the doctor prescribed was reducing their pain symptom partly because it was indeed relaxing their muscles. The problem was that the medication was not able to target one specific muscle. It was relaxing all of the muscles. That was the reason they felt lethargic. I explained that if they were able to use EMG biofeedback to learn to relax the specific muscles that were unusually tense, they would still get the pain reduction without feeling like spaghetti all over. This made sense to most people. It helped me to get them on-board to do the EMG Biofeedback work. Many patients experienced a reduction in pain symptoms even after only a few sessions. With most of them I could also show them that their EMG readings were much lower than they were when they started.

The man that came in for the EMG planned to only use the instrument for standard biofeedback/relaxation sessions. I explained that in addition to that, it would be helpful to have the EMG connected to him while he was doing other activities. I instructed him to set the threshold (goal) to a higher level than he normally would during a relaxation session. During a relaxation session he might set the threshold at 3 micro volts. I suggested a threshold of about 10 micro volts when using it during other activities. This is to allow normal muscle contraction that occurs during activities. I suggested trying it while he was doing paperwork or other activities that are not too physically demanding.

I explained that this type of training would help to generalize relaxation and help him to become more aware of and sensitive to changes in the level of tension in his muscles. Sometimes the problem is not that a person does not know how to relax at all. It may be that they don’t recognize when their tension level is starting to increase. The first sign of increased tension is often a stress related symptom like pain. By that time it is too late. By recognizing the early signs of increasing muscle tension you have the opportunity to release the excess tension BEFORE it leads to pain symptoms.

When I first connected the EMG sensors to the man’s forehead muscles the levels were high and I could visually notice the tension on his face. After several minutes of working with the EMG and talking, I noticed that the levels were lower and his face looked much more relaxed. THIS STUFF REALLY WORKS!


II. Announcements
The Advanced Neurofeedback Seminar that was scheduled for July 11-12th has been rescheduled. The new dates are: August 23-24th. There is still time to register if you weren’t able to make the original dates.

Please see:


Please visit our website for other upcoming seminar dates:


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