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14 Non-Drug Treatments for Migraines

Acupuncture

In this traditional Chinese practice, tiny needles are inserted at specific points on your body. Small studies suggest it can ease migraine pain and may also lower the number of headaches.

Complementary therapies like this generally work best along with traditional treatments.

Biofeedback

Your body responds to pain with physical changes like a faster heart rate, tensed muscles, or cold hands. In biofeedback, sensors measure these shifts, then feed the information to you as a blinking light or a tone you can hear. You attempt to respond to the feedback and relax your muscles.

The goal of biofeedback, often referred to as "mind over migraine,” is to teach you how to relax and control your physical state. Studies show it can often reduce headache pain and frequency.

Massage

This therapy hasn't been studied in depth, but early research shows that massage may lower the number of headaches in some people. It doesn't help with pain once a migraine starts.

Massage can also ease stress, a common headache trigger.

Supplements

Research suggests that taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) and magnesium  might help you get migraines less often, though it doesn't seem to relieve pain once one is under way. Coenzyme Q10 may also lead to fewer migraines in adults and children, though it usually needs to be taken for several months to see a benefit.

Before you take a supplement, talk with your doctor to be sure it won't react badly with other medicines.

Relaxation Techniques

Because migraines are often triggered by stress, relaxation training may help. Some useful methods include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tense and relax the muscles in different parts of your body.

With practice, this technique can help counter your response to stress and may prevent headaches.

Exercise

Regular cardio exercise -- workouts that get your heart pumping -- may help control your headaches.

A Swedish study compared exercise with relaxation and a drug that prevents migraines. The cardio routine -- 40 minutes, three times a week -- worked as well as relaxation or medicine in reducing pain and frequency.

Spinal Manipulation

There's some question about whether this technique, also called getting "adjusted" by a chiropractor, can help with migraines. But one small study found it worked just as well as medication to prevent migraines. 

There are some risks with this treatment, so talk to your doctor before trying it.

Talk Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing your thoughts and actions, may help you have fewer migraines.

Getting talk therapy doesn't mean that you have emotional problems or that your problems are imaginary. It can give you a fresh approach to situations that may lead to headaches. It works especially well when combined with other preventive treatments.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

In TMS, a doctor holds a device against your scalp to send painless magnetic pulses into your brain.

If you have migraines with aura, TMS done during the aura phase may shorten the length of the headache and make it less intense.

Diet Changes

Some people find that certain foods trigger their migraines. Alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, canned foods, cured or processed meats, aged cheeses, cultured dairy, MSG, and aspartame are among the most common.

Keep a food diary to help you remember what you ate before a headache came on. Then cut out these foods one at a time to see if it helps.

Herbal Remedies

Feverfew may ease pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light during a migraine, as well as help you have fewer headaches, but the research is mixed.

Some studies show that an extract of the herb butterbur may help prevent migraines. But the plant itself is toxic, so only use a commercially prepared product. 

Talk with your doctor about any herbal remedy you're thinking of trying. He'll let you know if it's safe for you.

Continue the slideshow for more non-drug treatments.

Pressure

Many people find that applying gentle pressure to the head, face, and neck during a migraine can help ease the pain. Techniques to try:

  • Press your brow line and under your eyes.
  • Rub your temples and jaw in a circular motion.
  • Massage the base of your skull with a tennis ball.

A variety of head wraps and bands claim to ease migraine pain. They're inexpensive and might be worth a try.

Sleep

Studies show that poor sleep and migraines often go hand in hand, so changing some of your bedtime habits may help. Things to try:

  • Don't read, watch TV, or listen to music in bed.
  • Don't take naps.
  • Don't eat within 4 hours or drink within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid using a digital device with a bright screen before bedtime.

 

Good Habits Fight Migraines

Your lifestyle can have a big impact on how often you get your headaches. These tips can help:

  • Don't skip meals.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Why Try a Complementary Treatment?

They may be a good option if you:

  • Aren't getting relief from prescribed treatments
  • Are having trouble with medicine side effects
  • Have a condition that prevents you from taking migraine medication
  • Simply don't want to take medication

Do Your Homework

If you're thinking of trying a complementary treatment for your migraines, your doctor can tell you if it works and if there are any risks. She can recommend an experienced practitioner of these therapies, too.

Your doctor can also make sure any supplements don't have a bad effect on your other medicines.

All About Headaches

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 23, 2014

Sources: Sources

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information: Disclaimer

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