Slideshow Pictures: Migraine Headaches -- 14 Non-Drug Treatments for Migraines
More Slideshows from eMedicineHealth
Watch and learn from these additional pictures slideshows.
If you have migraines, you'll probably try just about anything to find relief. The remedies in the slides ahead are unconventional, but may be worth discussing with your doctor. In acupuncture, tiny needles are inserted at specific points in the body. Small studies suggest it can ease migraine pain and may reduce the number of headaches, too. Complementary therapies like this generally work best along with traditional treatments.
Our bodies respond to pain with physical changes like a faster heart rate, tensed muscles, or cold hands. In biofeedback, sensors measure these changes, and then feed the information to you as a blinking light or audible tone. You learn relaxation techniques to control your physical state. Biofeedback is often referred to as "mind over migraine," and studies have found it can reduce migraine pain and frequency.
Massage for migraines hasn't been studied in-depth, but early research is promising. A 2006 study found that massage therapy reduced the number of headaches people experienced, though it didn't help with the pain, once a migraine got started. Massage can also reduce stress, a common migraine trigger.
Research suggests that taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) may reduce the frequency of migraines, though it doesn't seem to help with pain during a headache. Coenzyme Q-10 may also lead to fewer migraines in adults and children, though it usually takes several months to see a benefit. Before taking a supplement, it's important to talk with your health care provider to be sure it won't react badly with other medicines.
Because migraines are often triggered by stress, relaxation training can help. Some techniques that have good results include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tense and relax the muscles in different parts of your body. With practice, relaxation training can counteract the body's stress response and stop a migraine before it starts.
Regular cardio may make migraines less severe or less frequent. A 2011 Swedish study tested exercise against relaxation or a preventative migraine drug. The cardio routine -- 40 minutes, three times a week -- worked as well as relaxation or medicine in reducing the severity and frequency of migraines. For a workout without a lot of pounding, consider an elliptical or stationary bike. Talk with a doctor before switching treatments.
There is some controversy over whether spinal manipulation, or getting "adjusted" by a chiropractor, can help with migraines. But one small study compared spinal manipulation against a well-established treatment and found it worked just as well to prevent migraines. There are some risks associated with spinal manipulation, so discuss it with your doctor before trying it.
Counseling for migraines? It may sound surprising. But cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing your thought patterns and actions, can help you have fewer migraines. This does not mean that you have emotional problems or that your migraines are imaginary. It helps people develop a fresh approach to situations that may ultimately lead to headaches. It works especially well combined with drugs to prevent migraines.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses a magnetic device held against the scalp to send painless magnetic pulses into the brain. Though TMS isn't widely available yet, early research is promising. In people who have migraines with aura, or visual disturbances, when TMS is done during the aura phase, it can shorten the length of the migraine and lessen its intensity.
Some people find that certain foods trigger their migraines. Common trigger foods include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, canned foods, cured or processed meats, aged cheeses, cultured dairy, MSG, and aspartame. Keeping track of what you eat with a food diary can help you identify what you ate before a migraine came on. Try eliminating these foods one at a time to see if it improves your migraines.
People have used herbs to treat headaches for centuries, and some people do find them helpful. The herb feverfew may lessen pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light during a migraine and help you have fewer headaches. Some studies have found the herb butterbur effective in preventing migraines. Discuss any herbal remedy you're considering trying with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to take.
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 the brow line and under the eyes.
- Rub the temples and jaw in a circular motion.
- Massage the base of the skull with a tennis ball.
A variety of head wraps and bands claim to ease migraine pain, and since they're inexpensive and noninvasive, they may be worth a try.
Studies have shown 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 four hours or drink within two hours of bedtime.
- Go to bed at the same time every night, allowing for eight hours in bed.
Good Habits Fight Migraines
Your lifestyle can have a big impact on how often you get migraines. These tips can help:
- Keep a migraine diary to track your triggers.
- Don't skip meals.
- Stay hydrated.
- Get regular exercise.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Why Try a Complementary Treatment?
Complementary therapies may be a good option if you:
- Aren't getting relief from prescribed treatments
- Are having trouble with side effects
- Have a condition that prevents you from taking migraine medication
- Simply don't want to take medication
Often, complementary therapies work best when used along with a conventional migraine treatment. Make sure you talk to your doctor about all the treatments you're trying.
Do Your Homework
Thinking of trying a complementary therapy for your migraines? Your doctor can tell you what's safe and what works -- and they may give you the name of an experienced practitioner. Your doctor can also help you make sure any supplements are safe and won't interact with your other medicines. It's important not to replace conventional treatments with an unproven complementary therapy.
More Reading on Migraines