Many individuals with migraine or another headache disease seek complementary or alternative treatments to medication. Some complementary or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and mind-body therapies, have shown promising results in clinical trials. With the popularity of these treatments, a group of researchers looked to learn more about which treatments were most preferred by individuals with migraine or other headache diseases, as well as the reasons for selecting these alternative treatments.

The study was published in the September 2017 edition of Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. It focused on the more than 6,500 adults who participated in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). This secondary investigation of the survey analyzed patients who responded “yes” to at least one of these two questions: have you had recurring headaches during the past 12 months; and, have you had severe headache/migraine during the past 3 months.

Respondents to the survey were also asked about their use of complementary and alternative treatments. Researchers divided these treatments into six different types: herbs and non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements; manipulative therapies, such as massage; mind-body therapies, such as biofeedback; special diets; movement therapies, such as Pilates; and, other treatments, including acupuncture.

Analysis found that about half of those with migraine or another headache disease used a complementary treatment along with conventional treatment. The study found that the greater the severity of the headache disease, the more likely they were to participate in a form of complementary or alternative treatment.

Researchers said they hoped these findings would encourage health care professionals to integrate complementary treatments with the practice of conventional medicine. However, they acknowledged that more research needs to be done to understand the needs of individuals with migraine or another headache disease.

The study found the use of alternative therapies varied greatly depending on socioeconomic and other health factors. Users of alternative treatments were likely to be middle-aged, college-educated, employed, white, non-smoking women. These users also reported a normal BMI and better general health.

Researchers said this could suggest the benefit of complementary and alternative treatments, or it could show that individuals in worse health were less likely to turn to these forms of therapy.

Better understanding of why individuals with migraine or other headache disease choose specific treatment options is important for further investigation, the authors of the study concluded.