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Biofeedback for Migraines

Biofeedback appears to be especially effective in relieving migraine pain. This relaxation technique uses special equipment to teach you how to monitor and control certain physical responses related to stress, such as muscle tension.

Written by Sandy Cho, MD and reviewed by Julie A. Cerrato, PhD

Biofeedback appears to be especially effective in relieving migraine pain. This relaxation technique uses special equipment to teach you how to monitor and control certain physical responses related to stress, such as muscle tension.

Experts theorize that biofeedback‘s success is related to stress. Many of the ailments it has proven effective for are triggered or worsened by stress so learning to control it is key.

Biofeedback can focus on one or more techniques depending on the issue in question. Electromyography (EMG) biofeedback revolves around muscle tension, temperature or thermal biofeedback measures skin temperature, neurofeedback or electroencephalography records brain wave activity, galvanic skin response training uses the amount of sweat on the skin and heart rate variability biofeedback involves controlling the heart rate.

Sensors are placed on various parts of the body depending on the problem and type of biofeedback. These sensors then give responses from a monitor box in the form of a changing sound, varying brightness or line on a computer screen. The person undergoes a series of mental exercises that affect the feedback.

Biofeedback can be useful at home. A variety of biofeedback options are available with many types of monitors along with audio and/or visual programs.

One of the main benefits of biofeedback is the ability to become more attuned with the body. Many people prefer treatment without using medications while others have found drugs haven’t successfully addressed their problem. Biofeedback can be a viable alternative to explore in these situations.

The Mayo Clinic states, “Biofeedback appeals to people for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s noninvasive.
  • It may reduce or eliminate the need for medications.
  • It may be a treatment alternative for those who can’t tolerate medications.
  • It may be an option when medications haven’t worked well.
  • It may be an alternative to medications for some conditions during pregnancy.
  • It helps people take charge of their health.”

It has shown success in helping a variety of physical ailments including headaches. It has also been useful in emotional issues such as anxiety, stress and depression.

  • May Clinic, Biofeedback: Using your mind to improve your health, http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/basics/definition/prc-20020004
  • Gilmore B, et al. Treatment of acute migraine headache. American Family Physician. 2011;83:271-280.
    Hildreth C, Lynm C, Glass R. Migraine Headache. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;301(24):2608.
  • The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, aapb.org
  • National Institutes of Health—Biofeedback, nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/news-articles/002241.htm

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