Biofeedback device helps body heal itself

Published on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 by Tara Nelson

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When Blaine resident Diane Hastings began suffering severe ringing in her ears, she had no idea where to turn.

She visited neurologists, chiropractors and other medical professionals; received MRIs, CT scans, massage therapy; and researched various medical journals for new treatments, but nothing seemed to work.

Hastings was diagnosed with temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) but doctors were still unable to relieve the ringing. So when Blaine physical therapist Alan Finston suggested she try a biofeedback device used to encourage the body’s own healing processes through sound, she thought it couldn’t hurt.

The treatment, a small hand-held device called a SCENAR (also known as a self-controlled energetic neuro-adaptive regulator) was developed in Russia during the 1970s as a non-intrusive treatment for Russian astronauts. The SCENAR machine uses tiny electrical currents to measure the amount of muscle trauma and other injuries and illness by the time it takes for signals to bounce back, much like a bat uses sonar to detect distances. Depending on the length and kind of signal transmitted, the device receives a corresponding sound which the brain subconsciously interprets as an audio reward, thereby encouraging the body to speed the healing process.

“It’s as if the machine’s having a conversation with the nervous system that doesn’t require conscious effort on the part of the patient except to help direct the practitioner where to apply the machine next,” he said.
Hastings, who has suffered with her condition for more than two years, said on a scale of one through 10, the ringing was usually between eight and 10 – about the volume of a dentist’s drill. After her first treatment with the SCENAR machine, the ringing was noticeably reduced.

“I got so emotional because my ear ringing went from a 10 to a two and that was the first time in two years I had some real quiet,” she said.

After six treatments she said the volume has been reduced considerably, although it now fluctuates between a two and a seven.  She also noticed her lower back pain improved.

Finston, who owns and operates Whatcom Fitness and Physical Therapy in Blaine, said because the device is a generalized treatment it can often improve conditions that aren’t explicitly being treated.

“It’s considered energetic medicine but it’s in its own paradigm in a way,” he said. “I sometimes tell people it’s like the Russians digitized acupuncture but it’s much more than that. It can be used as an adjunct to traditional therapies such as massage, physical therapy and chiropractic or it can be used on its own.”

His first application of the SCENAR machine was with a patient who suffered from a “frozen” shoulder, in which he was not able to rotate his head.

Finston, who had previously been skeptical about the technology, said within the first visit (treatments can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour) they were able to restore the patient’s full range of motion, which can often take months to recover.

The SCENAR machine was adopted by the USSR Medical Council in 1986 for treatments such as athletic injuries, migraines and hearing problems and has grown in popularity in countries such as Canada, Australia and several EU nations.

It was also used by Russian athletes during the Australian Olympics in 2000 to reduce recovery time and improve healing responses from athletic injuries.

Although the technology is fairly new on the Western horizon, Finston said it has been available for some time in naturopathic and alternative medicine clinics. The Food and Drug Administration only recently approved it as a biofeedback device for muscle re-education and relaxation training although U.S. regulations require it is administered by a licensed health practitioner.

Finston is one of only a few practitioners who are trained administrators of SCENAR in the state and country. He earned his level I training in Roslyn, B.C. in early 2009, his level II training in Las Vegas last March and his level III training in Sydney, Australia last September.

As a certified administrator, he will assist Australian Olympic individual women’s luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg during her qualifiers in Whistler, B.C. this February. Campbell-Pegg has been receiving SCENAR work for the last year for preparation for the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver mostly for injury rehabilitation and post-exercise muscle recovery.

He has also trained most of his therapists to use it at the clinic and many of them have chosen to incorporate it into their therapy curriculum, mostly to treat orthopedic problems, post-operation recovery, knee and hip problems, herniated discs, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia and tendonitis.

“We’re now at the point where a good majority of our patients are coming in for SCENAR treatment with their therapy care,” he said.

Whatcom Fitness and Physical Therapy is located at 250 G Street in Blaine and can be reached by calling 332-1867.