Does Biofeedback Treat Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological condition that can interfere with everyday life. It’s defined by intense headaches that may be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, light sensitivity, and numbness.

There’s no cure for migraine, but the symptoms can be managed and treated when they occur. Depending on symptoms, migraine treatment can include:

  • lifestyle changes like stress management, eating a balanced diet, getting quality sleep, and exercising regularly
  • over-the-counter prescription migraine medication for symptom management and prevention
  • supplements
  • mind-body therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, and biofeedback

Biofeedback is a kind of treatment that helps you monitor your bodily responses to stress and be aware of them. Stress can cause various effects in your body, and by learning how to better physically manage your stress, the effects of stress may sometimes be minimized. Stress is a significant trigger of migraine attacks. By better managing stress, the frequency of migraine may be reduced.

Biofeedback can also teach you how to relax your body under stress and may help reduce the severity of migraine attacks.

There are several studies citing the effectiveness of biofeedback for migraine. But another older study concluded that there was no additional benefit to biofeedback for treating migraine or headaches in adults when compared to simple relaxation techniques. Since every person is different, some people may have different responses to the treatment.

Benefits of biofeedback for migraine headaches

Biofeedback may have various benefits for people living with migraine. Not everyone will have the same results, so it’s important to remember that what may work for one person may not work for another. More research is needed on specific techniques of biofeedback and its effects on migraine.

A 2017 study found that biofeedback reduced not only the frequency of migraine attacks, but also their severity, when combined with breathing and vascular training, and neurofeedback.

Biofeedback has been studied in children since the 1970s and much of the evidence supports its use in children for migraine and headache, according to a meta-analysis, with positive effects often remaining stable throughout average follow-up periods of 15 months and longer.

Are there risks or side effects with biofeedback for migraine?

Biofeedback is considered a non-invasive procedure with no known side effects or complications. If you have specific mental or physical health issues and concerns, check with your doctor before starting biofeedback.

That being said, it’s important to find someone who’s qualified to perform biofeedback and trained in the technique. You can do this by looking at The Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback website.

How does biofeedback therapy work for migraine?

There are different kinds of biofeedback. For migraine, two common types of biofeedback therapy include:

  • temperature training biofeedback
  • electromyography (EMG) biofeedback

In temperature training feedback, you first use an index finger temperature monitor at home for 4 weeks. The goal of this is to warm up your hands and increase the blood flow to the hands, diverting it away from the head. This is done twice a day, while repeating specific phrases designed to relax the body and encourage the hands to warm up.

During EMG feedback, electrodes are put on your forehead and neck. These monitor muscle tension. As the muscles increase their tension, the monitor will make noise or light up. The biofeedback therapist will then lead you in mental exercises or relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation. This helps to lower blood pressure and manage your stress.

By seeing what works for your tension, you can learn to help your body relax when triggered into stress.

What are the limitations of biofeedback?

No treatment is perfect, including biofeedback. But limitations don’t necessarily mean the treatment is not effective.

Since biofeedback usually helps produce good feelings, the symptoms of migraine may be relieved without addressing any underlying cause. If you live with migraine, talk with a doctor to rule out any underlying causes.

People with cognitive impairment may not understand all of the steps that biofeedback has or how it works, rendering it less effective. This means it may not be an inclusive treatment.

Biofeedback can be expensive and time-consuming, which is not conducive to everyone’s lifestyle.

How much does biofeedback cost to treat migraine?

The cost of biofeedback therapy can vary by provider and their experience. Typically, it can range from about $35 to $85 per session before insurance. Some insurance companies cover biofeedback, but others do not because they consider it experimental. Sometimes, certain criteria must be met before insurance companies will cover it.

Before you make an appointment, call your insurance company to find out if it covers biofeedback, if there are any specific criteria for coverage, and what the coverage conditions are. This information can give you a better idea of the costs of treatment.

If your insurance doesn’t cover the treatment, you may want to call around to training centers or programs near you and ask if they have reduced fees (or even free sessions) from students who need training hours.

Biofeedback therapy is usually given in a therapist’s office by a trained professional. Although there are biofeedback machines for home use, it’s not recommended to use these if you’re not trained.

Other relaxation-based treatments for migraine

While biofeedback is one relaxation-based treatment for migraine, it’s not the only treatment of its kind. Other treatments rooted in relaxation techniques have also been shown to be effective.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a form of relaxation technique that uses tightening and relaxation of muscle groups, one at a time. The goal is to get rid of tension while, at the same time, showing you what tension feels like so that you can learn to manage it and relax when you feel it. It has shown to be effective in helping to relieve migraine pain.

Breathing techniques

Stress can be a cause of migraine, and managing stress is important. Slow, deep breathing has been shown to help reduce stress. You can do this by inhaling for 4 seconds, then exhaling slowly for 4 seconds. Repeat this for at least 1 minute.

Lavender oil

Essential oils can sometimes have beneficial properties. Lavender oil has long been known to have relaxation properties. A 2012 study found that inhaling the scent of lavender oil helped reduce headache severity in those with diagnosed migraine. The results were significantly better than placebo.

Takeaway

While there’s no cure for migraine, biofeedback has shown promise in both reducing the frequency and severity of migraine. This, combined with medication and other behavioral techniques, has been effective for many people. Speak with your doctor about whether biofeedback is appropriate for your situation.

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