A new study shows that mindfulness meditation may help lessen the duration and severity of a migraine—one of the most painful and debilitating types of headaches. This is a significant finding as many sufferers have found little to no relief with conventional treatments.
Most migraine sufferers share similar symptoms—throbbing headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound—but there is no single specific cause. Therefore, conventional medicine can only treat the symptoms, never truly getting to the source of the problem. For some individuals, migraines are so severe and persistent that the only option is to lie down in a dark, soundless room until the pain finally subsides.
For the study, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recruited adult migraine sufferers to see if mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) could help ease their symptoms. MBSR is a standardized meditation and yoga therapy.
Before and after the study, researchers assessed the participants’ state of health as well as their ability to practice mindfulness techniques. The subjects were also asked to keep a log recording the frequency and duration of their migraines.
Of the 19 participants, ten received MBSR and nine were offered standard medical treatment. The MBSR group attended eight weekly classes to learn meditation techniques; they were also instructed to practice what they learned for 45 minutes a day, five days a week.
On average, the MBSR group experienced 1.4 fewer migraines each month. Their migraines were shorter in duration and less disabling than those in the control group. They also saw an increase in mindfulness and experienced a sense of personal control over their migraines.
Stress is a well-known trigger for headaches, said lead author Rebecca Erwin Wells, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist. She adds that research supports mind/body interventions for migraines, but until now, that there hasn't been much research on intervention through meditation.
More than 37 million people in the U.S. suffer from migraines (around 13 percent of the population), according to recent statistics. In fact, almost 11 million people report migraines as the source of their moderate or severe disability.
There is a big need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, said the researchers. MBSR is a safe intervention that holds promise in decreasing the misery of migraines, but more research is needed with a larger group of participants to fully evaluate its effectiveness.
The study is published in the journal Headache.