Though it’s often an easy fix to reach for an over-the-counter medication for a tension headache, alternative treatments may have better long-term results. Biofeedback and stress management are two common ways to treat migraines and tension-type headaches. A study published in Pain Physician assessed the efficacy of biofeedback in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine and tension-type headaches.
Biofeedback is a technique where sensors are placed on your body to observe shifts such as heart rate, temperature changes and muscle tension in real time. Those readings are then used to manipulate your body’s responses. For example a stress response reduces skin temperature because of constriction of blood vessels, while a relaxation response results in dilated blood vessels and warm skin—which helps reduce headache pain.
Sixty-four patients were entered into a randomized, prospective, single-blind study; 33 patients received biofeedback training in addition to instructions in relaxation techniques and 31 received only relaxation techniques. Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire at various points during three years about the total number of headaches and its severity. The study showed that both groups experienced a decrease in the frequency and severity of the headaches throughout the study and the total number of medications used was reduced. However, biofeedback provided no additional benefit in reducing the frequency and severity of headaches than stress management alone.
Bottom line? Managing your stress is the best way to tackle tension headaches and migraines. With the high demands of modern life, it’s no wonder stress-related illnesses account for two-thirds of family doctor visits. Common sources of stress include family and social relationships, work and muscle tension from fatigue and anxiety. There are many ways to cope with and reduce stress; start by developing good sleeping habits, eating and drinking sensibly and exercising regularly.
Biofeedback can be expensive and time consuming, so acupuncture, massage therapy, and vitamins and herbs may be techniques you want to explore. Consult your physician before using these methods and see your doctor if the symptoms of your migraine attacks change.