Practice in Clinical & Health Psychology
Temperature Biofeedback
Modulating Circulatory Function




What is Temperature Biofeedback?

Skin temperature biofeedback uses a thermistor (i.e., a temperature sensitive resistor) that is usually attached to a finger or toe to detect changes in skin temperature as measured in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. As measured from the surface of the skin, skin temperature primarily reflects changes in the diameter of the small blood vessels (i.e., arterioles) that supply blood to the skin. Skin temperature is used primarily as a stand-in for blood circulatory function

Hand-warming and hand-cooling are controlled through the autonomic nervous system and produced by separate mechanisms, and their regulation involves different skills. Hand-warming involves arteriole vasodilation (i.e., blood vessel relaxation/opening) by a beta-2 adrenergic hormonal mechanism. Hand-cooling, on the other hand, involves arteriole vasoconstriction (i.e., blood vessel tension/closing) produced by the increased firing of sympathetic C-fibers.

The goal of skin temperature biofeedback is usually to train the individual to be able to increase or decrease the temperature of their hands or feet at will and gain increased control of this aspect of autonomic nervous system functioning.

Biofeedback therapists may use temperature biofeedback when treating such conditions as chronic pain, edema, migraine and tension headache, essential hypertension, Raynaud’s disease, anxiety, and stress. Skin temperature biofeedback can be very useful in the treatment of problems that may be based on poor circulatory blood flow.