More than 20 percent of adult females and 10 percent of adult males have experienced a migraine or severe headache in the last few months. A smaller but still significant proportion of the population experiences frequent migraine headaches -- excruciating head and neck pain that can last for days.
For those fond of sitting quietly and mindfully for a few minutes every day, some much-needed relief might be on the way. A new study suggests meditation and yogic breathing can help mitigate migraine pain -- specifically a routine called mindfulness-based stress reduction that combines elements of meditation and yoga.
"Stress is a well-known trigger for headaches and research supports the general benefits of mind/body interventions for migraines, but there hasn't been much research to evaluate specific standardized meditation interventions," explained Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the new study. The study was published this week in the journal Headache.
Wells and her colleagues divided 19 patients afflicted by chronic migraine pain into two groups. One group of 10 were instructed in the methods of the MBSR intervention. These patients attended weekly classes and were instructed to meditate 45 minutes on their own, five days a week. The other nine patients received standard medical care including prescriptions and follow-up visits. All study participants were asked to keep headache journals and to record the frequency of migraine incidents, as well as pain levels and the time duration of each headache.
"We found that the MBSR participants had trends of fewer migraines that were less severe," Wells said. "Secondary effects included headaches that were shorter in duration and less disabling, and participants had increases in mindfulness and self-efficacy -- a sense of personal control over their migraines. In addition, there were no adverse events and excellent adherence."