Managing migraines: The case for biofeedback

There are many options to consider when dealing with migraines. The most popular and widely used methods involve the ingestion of prescription drugs that relieve pain. Migraine medication can generally be divided into two categories – acute and preventive medicines. While acute migraine medicines provide fast-acting relief from headaches and pains, preventive medications are designed to be taken daily in order to reduce the frequency of headaches.

Despite their popularity however, medications may not represent the most optimal treatment method for patients suffering from migraines. Research has shown that some migraine medications are not recommended for patients with conditions like high blood pressure, asthma, and heart and liver disease.

In this article, we’ll be exploring home-based biofeedback as a viable alternative for treating migraines.

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback therapy is a non-pharmacological technique used to treat conditions like chronic migraines, urinary incontinence and high blood pressure. In biofeedback therapy, the biology of medicine is replaced with the science of technology. Patients are linked to a biofeedback machine that measures vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, as well as other bodily functions like brain waves, muscle contractions and sweat rate.

While many doctors and researchers are still not certain how biofeedback therapy works in treating migraines, there has been much research conducted about its positive effects. Some researchers have speculated that the techniques associated with biofeedback promote practices that reduce stress, thereby helping patients control their bodily functions better.

Ultimately, the idea behind biofeedback therapy is to gain insights into the way a patient’s body responds to stimuli – in this case, migraines – and to use this knowledge to help patients understand and control their bodily functions.

Backing up biofeedback

There has been a considerable amount of evidence on the efficacy of biofeedback therapies that feature relaxation and stress management techniques. In a year-long study of 64 patients with chronic migraines and headaches conducted in 2009, Mullaly, Hall and Goldstein assessed the impact of biofeedback therapy in the treatment of migraines. Their research found that biofeedback therapy decreased patient dependency on medication, recording a gradual decrease of use after 36 months that suggested the efficacy of biofeedback and other relaxation techniques when it comes to treating migraines.

Another study asked patients to record headache intensity and migraine-related symptoms for 4 weeks before and after biofeedback treatment on a palm-top type computer. Results showed that home-based biofeedback therapy reduced the duration of moderate migraines by 1.9 days, while also reducing the frequency of intense migraines by 2.4 times. (Odawara, Hashizume, Yoshiuchi, 2015). Results also showed that migraine related symptoms like stress, anxiety, depression and irritation in the patients significantly improved – further asserting that home-based biofeedback is a viable treatment option in the self-treatment of migraines.

Penzien, Irby, & Smitherman, (2015) also concluded that such techniques can deliver positive results comparable to results produced by pharmacological treatment options for migraines. They also suggested that biofeedback therapy was well suited to a variety of treatment contexts, from individual sessions to group therapy. Furthermore, Burke & Andrasik, (1989) argue that home-based biofeedback techniques can represent a cost-effective solution to migraine management that is on par with clinic-based treatments.


Home-based biofeedback therapy provides an excellent treatment option for migraine patients seeking an alternative solution to treating their migraines. Research has also shown that biofeedback therapy provides an additional boost by reducing stress levels – which can positively influence the overall mental and physical health of patients. Future developments in medical technology will surely provide better biofeedback platforms for self-management of migraines in the future, paving the way for home-based biofeedback therapies to change the way we think about our headaches.

Odawara, M., Hashizume, M., Yoshiuchi, K. et al. Int.J. Behav. Med. (2015) 22: 748. doi:10.1007/s12529-015-9469-z

Penzien, D.B., Irby, M.B., Smitherman, T.A. et al. Curr Pain Headache Rep (2015) 19: 34. doi:10.1007/s11916-015-0500-5

Mullally WJ, Hall K, Goldstein R. (2009) Nov-Dec;12(6):1005-11. Efficacy of biofeedback in the treatment of migraine and tension type headaches.

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Burke EJ, Andrasik F. (1989) Jul;29(7):434-40. Home- vs. clinic-based biofeedback treatment for pediatric migraine: results of treatment through one-year follow-up.

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