Meditation might be a path to migraine
relief, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical
“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,”
said Rebecca Erwin Wells, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest
Baptist and lead author of the study published in the online edition of the
The study was designed to assess the safety, feasibility
and effects of a standardized meditation and yoga intervention called
mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in adults with migraines.
Nineteen adults were randomly assigned to two groups with
10 receiving the MBSR intervention and nine receiving standard medical care. The
participants attended eight weekly classes to learn MBSR techniques and were
instructed to practice 45 minutes on their own at least five additional days
Study participants were evaluated before and after the
trial period using objective measures of disability, self-efficacy and
mindfulness. They also maintained headache logs throughout the trial to capture
the frequency, severity and duration of their migraines.
“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
Specifically, the MBSR participants had 1.4 fewer
migraines per month that were less severe, effects that did not reach
statistical significance. The participants’ headaches were significantly
shorter as compared to the control group.
Based on these findings, the research team concluded that
MBSR is a safe and feasible therapy for adults with migraines. Although the sample
size of this pilot study was too small to detect statistically significant
changes in migraine frequency or severity, secondary outcomes demonstrated this
intervention had a beneficial effect on headache duration, disability,
self-efficacy and mindfulness.
Future studies with larger sample sizes are planned to
further evaluate the impact and mechanisms of this intervention in adults with
migraines, Wells said.
“For the approximate 36 million Americans who suffer from
migraines, there is big need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, and
doctors and patients should know that MBSR is a safe intervention that could
potentially decrease the impact of migraines,” Wells said.
The study was supported financially by the American
Headache Society Fellowship and the Headache Research Fund of the John Graham
Headache Center, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital.
Co-authors are Timothy T. Houle, Ph.D., of Wake Forest
Baptist; Rebecca Burch, M.D., Elizabeth Loder, M.D., Randall H. Paulsen, M.D.,
and Peter M. Wayne, Ph.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical