Got Migraines? Try Meditation—Study Shows It Helps

Wednesday Oct 15 | BY |
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Meditation

Migraines not only cause pain and suffering, but stress, job problems, and insomnia.
Might meditation help?

The Migraine Research Foundation states that nearly one in four households in the U.S. include someone who suffers from migraines. That translates into more than 37 million people who miss work, family events, and fun activities because they’re in too much pain to participate.

Ask anyone who has migraines—they’d do anything to stop them, or even reduce how often they occur. We gave you a number of potential natural solutions on a previous post, but there was one we didn’t mention that has proved in a recent study to be effective: meditation.

Migraines and Stress

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migraine is one of the top 20 causes of disability, causing an estimated 25 million days lost from work and school worldwide. Over a third of migraine sufferers report difficulties or discrimination at work because of their condition.

Most migraine sufferers note that certain “triggers”—like lack of sleep, certain foods, or stress—can increase their headaches. The more pain they experience, the more stressed they become, so managing stress becomes an important part of dealing with migraines.

It’s no wonder, then, that scientists wondered if meditation might help, on some level. What they found, however, was that it may do a lot more than help migraine sufferers deal with the stress of the condition—it may actually help reduce the recurrence of the headaches.

Patients Who Meditated, Improved

For the study, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center conducted a randomized controlled trial with 19 people who regularly suffered from migraines—at least 4 to 14 times a month. All were taking medications for their headaches.

Ten went through a standardized eight-week mind/body intervention that taught mindfulness and meditation/yoga (called “mindfulness-based stress reduction,” or “MBSR”). The other nine received standard care.

Results showed the following:

  • MBSR patients had 1.4 fewer migraines per month.
  • MBSR patients had headaches that were less severe, and shorter, vs. those in standard care.
  • MBSR patients also reported lowered stress, anxiety, and depression, and a higher quality of life.

This was a small study—something the researchers acknowledge—but it did bring attention to meditation and mindfulness as possible treatments for migraines. The researchers recommended that more studies “are warranted to further evaluate this intervention for adults with migraines,” and added, “For the approximate 36 million Americans who suffer from migraines, there is a big need for pharmaceutical treatment strategies, and doctors and patients should know that MBSR is a safe intervention that could potentially decrease the impact of migraines.”

Other Studies Show Similar Results

This isn’t the first study to suggest that meditation may help reduce the occurrence of migraines. In 2008, researchers examined whether spiritual meditation was effective in improving pain tolerance and reducing migraine headaches, and whether it could create better physical and mental outcomes than secular meditation and relaxation techniques.

They compared migraine sufferers who were taught and practiced spiritual meditation with sufferers who were taught and practiced other types of secular meditation and muscle relaxation. All participants practiced for 20 minutes a day for one month.

Results showed that those who practiced spiritual meditation had greater reductions in frequency of migraines and anxiety than any of the other participants, and also had greater increases in pain tolerance and existential well-being.

The Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute (MHNI) notes another study that found that headache patients who regularly performed mindfulness meditation experienced a 30 percent improvement in things like sleeping, mood, anxiety, and depression. By the end of the eight-week study period, they reported they were even able to cut back on medications.

Another 2001 study found that regular meditation increased energy, reduced body pain, and reduced anxiety by 44 percent and depression by 34 percent.

Tips to Get Started

What if you have never meditated before? Researchers say it’s very easy to get started. The key is to keep it simple, and think of it as simply sitting quietly while letting your thoughts pass you by.

Try the following tips to get started on your meditation practice. Once you get going, you can find more information at the transcendental meditation website.

  • Find a quiet space and sit comfortably. Make sure your phone is on silent and all other distractions are turned off.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  • Focus on your breathing alone. Feel it come into your lungs and out through your nose.
  • As your thoughts come up, simply watch them and let them go by. Bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Don’t criticize yourself. Your mind will wander. You’ll start thinking of everything you need to do after this, or that this is boring, or that your back hurts, etc. Don’t engage with these thoughts. Simply bring your mind gently back to your breathing. In and out.
  • Remain quietly until the timer goes off.
  • As you get more comfortable with ten minutes, try increasing it to fifteen.

Have you tried meditation for your headaches? Did it work? Please share your story.

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Sources
Rebecca Erwin Wells, et al., “Meditation for Migraines: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial,” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, July 18, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/head.12420, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/head.12420/abstract.

Wachholtz AB, Pargament KI, “Migraines and meditation: does spirituality matter?” J Behav Med. August 2008; 31(4): 351-66, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18551362.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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