Brian Carter, 41, had his first migraine in his 20s. "I worked from home, and I'd try to keep working but couldn't," he says. "I'd get nauseous. Doing anything felt painful, so I'd lie down and put a pillow over my head."
Sound familiar? If you're one of the 36 million Americans who get migraines, you probably know that the awful pain is no ordinary headache. Migraines are defined as moderate to severe pain lasting 4 to 72 hours, usually on one side of the head. The pain gets worse with exercise,...
Chronic stress may contribute to the development of the most common types of headaches, including migraines and tension-type headaches. So it's not surprising that alternative treatments aimed at stress reduction, such as biofeedback and relaxation, are well-studied and considered effective treatments for some patients with headaches. There are additional "nontraditional" headache treatments, including acupuncture, massage, herbs, and diets, of which there are varying degrees of effectiveness.
Biofeedback for Migraines and Headaches
Biofeedback is a technique that can help a headache sufferer learn stress-reduction skills by providing information (feedback) about muscle tension, skin temperature, brain waves, and other vital signs. Small metal sensors, called electrodes, are attached to the skin and measure the amount of muscle tension or the skin temperature. This information is displayed as numbers, electrical waves, or sounds on a screen. For example, a stress response reduces skin temperature because of constriction of blood vessels, while a relaxation response results in dilated blood vessels and warm skin.
The results of several studies show changes in the blood flow in the brain during migraine attacks and in the pain-free periods in between. Using biofeedback training, a person can influence the blood flow to the brain and better manage a headache.
Most studies on biofeedback indicate that it reduces the frequency and duration of headaches, both in children and adults. In general, the effects of biofeedback appear to be comparable to many drugs used for chronic headaches, and can be recommended as early treatment for recurrent migraines.