This treatment and its use in helping to reduce the severity and frequency of migraine has been gaining popularity over the past decade. Here, Joshua Cohen, MD, MPH, a headache specialist at the New York-based Headache Institute at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, explains what those wrestling with migraines should know.
What It Is
Biofeedback is a treatment technique within the complementary and alternative realm of medicine that involves learning how to use your mind to control body functions, including muscle tightening and heart rate. During a treatment session, a person is hooked up to electronic sensors that measure body feedback. Through watching body reactions on a screen, you can start to understand how to modify behaviors, including relaxing muscles, to reduce the stress that could trigger a migraine. “This modality trains you to better manage stress levels by teaching you exercises. Over time, as you practice the exercises and receive additional feedback, you can measure improvement,” says Dr. Cohen. “It is especially helpful to those for whom stress is a significant migraine trigger. You learn how to better manage stress levels to help prevent migraines and can use the exercises to reduce pain during attacks.”
Biofeedback is considered generally safe and without side effects, but you should discuss it with your doctor before trying it. One possible downside is the price (sessions cost about $100). How much insurance covers will vary.
How It Works
You typically start with a weekly one-hour session for five consecutive weeks, usually as a supplemental treatment. “There have been numerous studies on biofeedback to migraines, and all have shown positive results,” says Dr. Cohen.
Because the treatment is about using the mind to control body responses, biofeedback is administered by psychologists, social workers, and/or other therapists trained in psychoanalysis. “I certainly have experienced some eyebrow-raising reluctance when patients hear this,” says Dr. Cohen. “But I just explain that anxiety and depression can exacerbate migraines and need to be addressed in order to get better.” He often tells patients, “You are here because you want and need to get better—and that involves taking a holisitc approach, and doing everything necessary to reduce the migraines holding you back in life.” Dr. Cohen admits it may take a couple visits for patients to warm up to the idea. “While this treatment is not for everyone suffering from migraine, those I recommend it to that take it to heart and decide to try biofeedback are often glad they did.”
Would You try biofeedback — or are You raising eyebrows?