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Electromyographic Biofeedback

An essential device for myographic biofeedback applications is the electromyograph or myograph or E.M.G as is worldwide known from its initials.

In biofeedback workshops a small portable high-tech instument is used, supplied by 3 volt battery, connected through optic fibers to a special computer.

The electrodes of the electromyograph are placed upon the skin over the muscle under examination and monitor its electrical activity.

This diminutive electrical activity exhibited by muscles is amplified and displayed in the form of either visual or acoustic signals on the computer screen. Depending on the intensity of the acoustic signal or the visual reading you have direct perception of the amount of tension in your muscles, how contracted or relaxed they are.

Through electromyographic biofeedback you learn to locate muscular tensions in your body and to release them before causing malfunctions or diseases.

You also learn how to break the axon muscular tension-anxiety. This is succeded by learning how to release your muscular system from the encumberance of stress, originally piling in the form of muscular tension and in succession leading to diverse psychophysiologic problems among which, one one of the most torturing, anxiety.
Electromyography commenced on 1929 when Andrian and Bronk published their first researches. In the same year Sir Charles Sherrington discovered and described the motor unit. Later on, after the end of the second world around 1950 and on many researches were carried out on electromyography, looking for solutions in the field of prosthetic extremities for amputated individuals. Thus, electromyographic kinesiology made gradual progress and researchers managed to control the simple motor unit.
References to biofeedback were originally made by Borsook, Billig & Golheth in 1952, who tried to replace a paretic muscle. In 1955 Marinacci announced the results from his clinical observations and researches on various neuromuscular diseases. In 1960 Marinacci & Horande reported a number of cases treated via electromyographic biofeedback and proposed that biofeedback be selected as the chief intervention in the treatment of neuromuscular functions involved in several neurological illnesses. In 1964 Andrius announced an amazing scientific study which conveyed that electromyographic biofeedback applied for 20 years on paralyzed patients succeeded in restoring motion in the elbow area in 17 of them. Similar researches in great extent and diversity were conducted and reported also by Basmajin, studying a large number of body muscles and gearing to remedying neuromuscular problems.

Serious damages of the central nervous system have been restored with electromyographic biofeedback. In many cases, such as spastic diplegia, patients were trained through biofeedback to functionally move parts.

Ancillary role in this plays also the great plasticity that the central nervous system presents, by permitting muscular groups which had fell to disuse for a period of time to regain their function, even if in some cases had never been used before. Through this process biofeedback has helped redress kinetic problems pursuant to brain stroke, cross-sections of spinal medulla, brain injuries, spastic hemiplegia diplegia, clerk’s spasm, urine incontinency etc.
The succession of processes followed in the electromyographic biofeedback training is as follows:

a) Initially, you are trained to realize the nature and the modus operandi of the function which must be restored.

You learn where the problem lies concering the specific function and the kind of dysfunction it brings about. You learn the “who is who” of your dyspragia (dysfunction).

b) In succession, you are taught how to control voluntarily this physiological function, by receiving objective data regarding your efforts, via feedback.

At this stage, you must collect and interpret the data provided by biofeedback. It does not suffice to collect alone the evidence, you must further evaluate and utilize it so as to control voluntarily the physiological function requiring repair. To rephrase it, by utilizing the feedback data you must bring under your control the function being examined so as to cease causing the dysfunction.

c) Finally, through exercising you consolidate the control you gained over the physiological function, reinforce and integrate it.

At the third stage, what you voluntarily succeeded through training is now taking place automatically and effortlessly.

Electromyographic biofeedback has played great role and has offered significant aid in neuromuscular rehabilitation after:
brain strokes
brain injuries and accidents
cross-sections of spinal medulla
torticollis (contracted neck muscles)
spastic diplegia
dislocation of tendons
Guillain-Barret syndrome
Clerk’s spasm and
Parkinson’s disease.

Electromyograph has been used as the main biofeedback organ in the treatment of numerous health problems such as tension headaches, urine incontinence, lumbar pains, chronic muscular spasm, physical rehabilitation programs, as well as in athletic training to improve performance.
Most people respond to stress by increasing muscular tension. This type of response, meaning the contraction of muscles, actually forms body’s preparation for fight or flight, in order to avoid something unpleasant and be prepared to resist in the event of imminent pressure or danger. Muscles accumulate remarkable amounts of tension. In the majority of people this muscular tension is rarely consciously recognized, particularly while lasting the stressor provoking this tension, especially if the stressor is psychologically camouflaged. Only when conscious attention is not misled or trapped from the prevailing situation which is causing stress or anxiety, can the muscular tension become realized.

Even if you have considerable tension you may not feel it or be aware of it.

This is understood if we remember that muscles consist of large bundles of muscular fibers and is possible that great numbers of these contract even before the phenomenon extends to the degree to be perceived as spasm or pain. If one wants to justify the impact of stress on muscular tension, he must assert that he lives under social conditions imposing constant pressure or tension. In opposite case, he should claim that he responds to social pressure too often, if not all the time. When tension becomes unbearable and the organism cannot sustain it any longer a sudden spontaneous relaxation is observed, which however as a clearly instinctive reaction progresses very slowly. Sleep could prove a good antidote, still relaxation and release of tension should precede it.

If you sleep tensed you may wake up with even greater tension, since subconscious memories during sleep can keep muscles tense and dreams can further augment tension.

Granted that tension diminishes slowly, it can soar even higher if a stressful situation reappears too close or if another, new one emerges.
If these situations are frequent or if you keep thinking, ruminating and recollecting mentally the stressing situations, then tension piles up, as a result muscles remain almost constantly contracted with all ensuing disagreeable implications upon your health (chronic lumbar pains, neck pains, headaches, easy fatigue etc).

“Uptight” people usually get easily scared and react in a spasmodic and intense manner.

If muscles do not enjoy relief from tension through relaxation or a change in their activity, then muscular fibers naturally adjust to increased levels of tension. This state seems to derange the inherent regulatory system of muscles.

Continuous stress or mental rumination on situations causing stress does not allow muscles to relax, thus tension steadily escalates.

However, this does not end the issue. Since such large parts of muscle mass remains contracted, huge numbers of messages are transmitted toward the respective muscle control areas in the brain. These signals act upon the brain as stressors, confirming that exists indeed reason for the organism to remain in fight or flight state. Thereby, the brain sends back orders for even greater contraction. This way the vicious circle is completed and the individual is trapped in ever increasing stress, pushing the organism to its endurance limits, when eventually pathological conditions break out and the person collapses.
Since you rarely allot time for self-observation, your muscular condition usually escapes your attention, until it causes considerable malfunction or disease. You attention focuses on the stressogenic factor and by ruminating, stretching and over-estimating it and its implications, you set the conditions for establishing permanently muscular contraction and the vicious circle of general tension. Because increased tension does not fall under the consciousness scope, inhibitory mechanisms cannot come into play. Thus, muscles stay tensed, as in fight state, and remain in this state until the conditions fueling this tension are removed or until you consciously acknowledge the existing tension and proceed to the appropriate corrections. However if this does not occur, if a solution is not provided to the problem, then tensions become chronic. Consequentially, apart of the somatic problems mentioned above, intense anxiety emerges because muscular tensions bear upon the psychomental level similar phenomena.

Another phenomenon causing significant amounts of unconscious muscular tension is dysponesis.

If we observe a young pupil while he is doing his homework we usually notice that his body is tense and bends, he llifts his shoulders, and keeps the hand not used in writing clenched or stif. Travellers carrying suitcases in stations usually hold the opposite shoulder lifted, adopt bent posture and body stifness, while facial mimic muslces contract in an expression of weariness and distress. In speakers participating in an open discussion and trying to win over their listeners, we usually observe spinal lordosis, uplifted stif shoulders, uptight expression and neck rigidity.
These examples, along with numerous more you can spot in your everyday life, convey that when man is making an effort, apart from using the muscles necessary in the implementation of the certain movement, strains as well purposelessly several other muscle groups which are not involved in the specific action.

The phenomenon of unnecessary and unnatural contraction of muscles not involved in a movement, is called dysponesis.
The body cannot last for long under dysponesis.

Dysponesis results to accumulation of muscular tensions in the body with all the aforementioned consequences.
As a teenager, in the ‘60’s, I admired long-shoremen loading cargos at Alexandroupoli harbour. I used to watch them carrying wheat sacks for long hours without a break from large caiques to cargo-ships. I regarded them as men of supernatural strength. I thought they were made up from a different kind of material. Although I was well worked out, a water polo and rowing athlete, sailsman with great endurances for my age, and I lifted and carried relatively easy the sacks, after twenty minutes of work I was a wreck. I was puzzled with the strenght and endurance resources hidded in these people, who although often middle-aged, worked all day long with just a short break for frugal lunch. I did not know then that they had their way. While I was contracting all over, putting extra effort, they were easy going and calm as if the load was part of their body. Later on, I realized that this job too, as many others, needs gain not strain, in other words it requires the proper way. They simply avoided dysponesis whereas I was breaking my muscular system down from dysponesis. However, as a university student I had positive experience of this rule, when for the sake of training and keeping enganged in some activity during vacations, I was loading and unloading sacks with raisins at the estate of my Cretan friend, who offered me her hospitality. Her father noticing my easiness in weight-lifting was telling her brother who was working with me “Andrew, lazybone watch Spyros, what is he doing and doesn’t get tired, and you loose your breath with only ten sacks?”. I was putting to practice what biofeedback had disclosed in the meantime to me. Professional long-shoremen, who produce daily great amounts of muscular work, thus must preserve their muscular system at the best possible functional condition, have invented their own apt technique in carrying loads. They allocate weight simultaneously in several muscle groups, and in parallel keep relaxed those muscles not involved in the work. Once they unload, they relax and rearrange their muscles. While carrying the load, their body has great elasticity and agility, and finally, they keep a steady personal work pace which enables them to perform work without unnaturally wearing out their muscular system.