Simple lifestyle changes and natural approaches can often make a difference when you’re seeking migraine relief. Here are 8 self-care techniques that may help…
What do you do once you feel the throbbing pain and other symptoms that accompany migraine headaches?
Whether you run for a dark room or to the medicine cabinet, you might consider one more approach: self-care therapies. They can ease pain and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
Migraines are vascular headaches, meaning they’re triggered by the temporary narrowing of blood vessels in your head. This reduces the flow of blood-transporting oxygen to your brain, producing many unpleasant symptoms. They can include severe pain, light and noise sensitivity, auras, nausea and vomiting. Often, the pain is felt on just one side of the head, according to the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS).
Many migraine patients use self-care techniques along with medication to relieve migraine symptoms. In fact, about half of patients reported using at least one non-pharmaceutical therapy to self-treat their migraines, according to a 2013 study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.
Here are 8 self-care techniques that experts say may help.
1. Keep a migraine diary.
You might think that migraines are unpredictable. But 70% of migraine sufferers experience early warning symptoms that may be identified with a headache diary, according to a 2009 Georgia State University study.
“Keep a really good diary or journal,” advises Sheena Aurora, M.D., clinical professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
“This is where you can log your medication use, how often you’re having headaches, your diet and any other triggers or patterns that you see,” she says.
Share this information with your doctor at each appointment.
2. Work out regularly.
Moderate exercise may reduce frequency, intensity and length of migraine attacks, according to a 2011 study in Cephalalgia, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
“Take a walk in a casual, yoga-like fashion for 30 minutes a day – or even a 15-minute outdoor walk on your lunch break – to [give] your body the benefits of modest exercise and your brain space and relief,” suggests Richard P. Kraig, M.D., Ph.D., director of the migraine headache clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine.
This process will help release stress, improve concentration and reduce excitability or tension, Dr. Kraig says.
“We’ve found that exercise, plus environmental enrichment [spending time in pleasant or interesting surroundings], makes the brain stronger against migraines,” he says.
3. Snuggle up with your partner.
Many people avoid sexual activity during migraine attacks. But engaging in it may actually lead to partial or complete relief, German researchers found in 2013.
That’s because physical intimacy produces a rush of feel-good hormones called endorphins, your body’s own natural painkillers.
“Although the science on this is limited, it’s intriguing that it might work for some individuals,” Dr. Aurora says. “I’ve actually heard about this approach being used by patients.”
4. Consider supplements.
Migraines are sometimes caused by vitamin or mineral deficiencies or imbalances, and many patients who take riboflavin or magnesium supplements find relief with minimal side effects, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Biological Trace Elements Research.
Ask your doctor before taking any supplements.
Taking 50 mg of riboflavin daily is enough to treat mild migraines; 500 mg of magnesium has been shown to reduce migraine frequency and severity, Dr. Aurora says.
“I tell those with regular migraines to start taking a supplement and keep a log to see if certain symptoms subside,” she adds.
5. Clean up your sleep act.
If you often wake up with a headache, this is a sign that your sleep patterns may be the culprit.
In fact, the onset of nearly half of all migraines occurs between 4 and 9 a.m., according to the American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education, a nonprofit educational resource for health professionals.
Being sleep deprived, over-sleeping or suffering from sleep disturbances, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, may trigger a migraine, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
In turn, headache sufferers are also at higher risk of developing a sleep disorder.
Establish regular sleep hours to lower your chances of experiencing sleep-related migraines.
“Stability with sleep is crucial with migraines,” says Dr. Aurora. “Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is generally more important than the total number of hours you’re sleeping at night.”
6. Practice mindfulness meditation or yoga.
One of the biggest migraine triggers is stress, but it’s often the hardest one to manage. Luckily, a variety of stress-reduction techniques can help.
Adults found relief from migraine symptoms when they participated in 8 weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, according to a 2014 study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. After using meditation and yoga principles, subjects reported fewer migraine attacks, less pain, reduced stress, anxiety and disability, and a better quality of life.
People with migraines “are often anxious people,” Dr. Kraig says. “Since migraines and anxiety are [associated medical conditions], finding a way to relax, like yoga, will help calm the winding up of the string of stressors that can trigger migraine attacks.”
7. Get a massage.
Massage can be an effective complementary therapy for treating migraines, especially those brought on by stress or sleep issues.
“Massage works mostly as a de-stressor,” explains Dr. Aurora. “As women get older, we hold more pressure in our necks, and that seems to be a hot-spot trigger for migraines.”
The neck-brain stem connection stores tension and pressure that can be released with physical manipulation from a massage.
You don’t need a daily massage, but the healing touch might be just enough to keep symptoms at bay when you feel the warning signs of a migraine attack. Just make sure you choose a licensed massage therapist.
8. Learn biofeedback.
Biofeedback, a pain management intervention, may work to lessen the stress and muscle tension that can trigger migraine, according to a 2010 study reported in Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.
Although there are home programs available, biofeedback is traditionally done with a psychologist who uses a computer monitor device that illustrates what happens when your brain responds to stress. The aim is to help patients learn to control specific body functions, including breathing rate, muscle tension and heart rate.
“It’s very valuable to learn biofeedback and muscle relaxation with a practitioner first and be taught the techniques properly,” says Dr. Aurora. “Then, they can be effective self-care tools that you may use on your own.”