Meditation, known to provide many health benefits, may also provide migraine relief, according to a small study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
The study, which included 19 adults, assessed mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)—a combination of meditation and yoga—on migraineurs. Nine patients received standard medical care, and 10 patients received MBSR interventions. They attended eight weekly classes to learn MBSR techniques and were instructed to practice 45 minutes on their own at least 5 additional days per week.
MBSR was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since 1979, it has been used to treat a range of medical problems and often provides considerable benefits, including less reliance on pain medication and increased activity levels.
The migraineurs who practiced MBSR techniques had 1.4 fewer migraines each month than their counterparts receiving standard treatment. Headaches among those in the MBSR group also tended to be briefer and less severe, and participants reported a sense of personal control over their migraines. In addition, they reported no adverse events and adhered well to the program.
Because of the small size of the study, the changes in migraine frequency and severity were not statistically significant. However, researchers said, the results indicated MBSR provided benefits, and they are advocating for larger studies with larger sample sizes to more fully understand MBSR’s benefits for migraine.
“For the approximate 36 million Americans who suffer from migraines, there is a big need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, and doctors and patients should know that MBSR is a safe intervention that could potentially decrease the impact of migraines,” said Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study, which was published online in Headache.