Try Meditation for Migraine?
A recent study adds to the slowly growing understanding and appreciation of the impact of meditation for migraine. Here’s what the team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center discovered, as well as findings of some previous researchers.
If you suffer with migraine, could meditation work for you? Have you ever tried it? According to the results of a small clinical trial, a meditation and yoga program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was helpful for the study subjects.
A total of 19 adult migraineurs were enrolled in the eight-week study. Ten participated in the meditation and yoga program and nine underwent standard medical care.
The adults in the MBSR group attended eight weekly classes where they learned meditation and yoga techniques. Their homework was to practice what they learned for 45 minutes at least five additional days per week and to maintain a headache log, noting the duration, frequency, and severity of their head pain.
At the end of the eight weeks, the meditation and yoga participants
- Showed a trend toward fewer (1.4 fewer per month) and less severe migraines
- Had headaches that lasted a shorter amount of time and were less disabling
- Reported improved mindfulness and a sense of control over their migraines
- Had all completed the program
According to Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest and the study’s lead author, plans are to conduct additional studies involving more participants.
Lack of effective migraine treatment
About 50 percent of all migraineurs are never diagnosed and most migraine sufferers do not seek medical help for their condition. Reasons for these facts may be the lack of effectiveness of the available medications, side effects of the drugs, cost of medication, and a sense of helplessness.
A 2011 study reported in Headache noted that more than half of adults who had migraines or severe headaches and who used complementary/alternative medicine approaches such as meditation and yoga did not discuss it with their healthcare provider. Among the reasons they used alternative techniques was “because conventional treatments were perceived as ineffective or too costly.”
Although meditation and stress reduction methods are not a cure, they can provide individuals with a drug-free, cost-free, self-guided approach that may offer some relief.
Previous meditation and migraine studies
Twenty-seven adults who experienced two to ten migraines per month participated in a one-time-only meditation-based treatment. None of the participants had ever practiced meditation before this study.
The migraineurs reported on their migraine-related pain and emotional tension status both before and after the treatment. The treatment session lasted 20 minutes and was based on the Buddhist “loving kindness” approach.
After the meditation session, the migraineurs reported a 33 percent decline in pain and a 43 percent decrease in emotional tension. Although the study involved only one meditation session, the authors concluded that even a single meditation event has the ability to reduce pain and tension.
Another study looked at whether spirituality plays a role in the effectiveness of meditation for migraine. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if spiritual meditation more effective at improving tolerance to pain and reducing migraine symptoms than secular meditation, and if spiritual meditation result in better physical, mental, and spiritual health outcomes.
Eighty-three frequent migraineurs who had never practiced meditation were assigned to one of four groups: spiritual meditation, internally focused secular meditation, externally focused secular meditation, or muscle relaxation. The participants were asked to practice their assignment for 20 minutes daily for one month.
Migraineurs in the spiritual meditation group had the greatest decline in the frequency of migraines, anxiety, and negative affect, along with the greatest increases in tolerance of pain, headache-related self-efficacy, existential well-being, and daily spiritual experiences.
Does any of this mean meditation will help you with your migraines? Even if the relief is mild to moderate, it seems worth a try. After all, it's free, without side effects, and can be done in the privacy of your own home on your own schedule.
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Migraine Research Foundation
Tonelli ME, Wachholtz AB. Meditation-based treatment yielding immediate relief for meditation-naïve migraineurs. Pain Management Nursing 2014 Mar; 15(1): 36-40
Wachholtz AB, Pargament KI. Migraines and mediation: does spirituality matter? Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2008 Aug; 31(4): 351-66
Wells RE et al. Meditation for migraine. A pilot randomized controlled trial. Headache 2014 Oct; 54(9): 1484-95
Wells RE et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults with migraines/severe headaches. Headache 2011 Jul-Aug; 51(7): 1087-97