If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you’ll know what an utter wipe-out they can be.
However, a new breakthrough trial has discovered a way to treat them, and better yet, it does not involve using medication.
It seems the secret power lies with something much more holistic, by tapping into what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction instead.
That might sound like a bit of a mouthful, but the technique, known as MBSR for short, is proving to not only decrease migraine intensity but also improve quality of life.
While migraines are likened to ‘bad headaches’, they are usually much more severe as sufferers experience throbbing pain that can induce feelings of sickness or sensitivity to light and sound.
The mindfulness-based stress reduction promises to eliminate the pain by lowering anxiety and depression levels which has a physiological knock-on effect to the body.
This new approach looks set to be a major breakthrough for migraine sufferers around the world who currently rely on traditional medicine and use powerful painkillers or even opioids that often lose their value over time as people build up a tolerance.
The latest study split participants into two groups, those who used MBSR and those who used generic headache education, to explore whether mindfulness-based stress education could not only improve migraine outcomes but also change pain perception and emotional wellbeing.
Delivered across eight weeks, the MBSR group followed a curriculum of mindfulness meditation and yoga as well as audio files for home practice up to 30 minutes a day.
Meanwhile, the headache education group received instruction on pathophysiology [the study of physiological processes associated with disease or injury], triggers, stress, and treatment.
While participants in both groups reported fewer days with migraines, it was only those in the MBSR group who recorded improved quality of life and lower depression scores.
Speaking about the findings, associate professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, USA, Rebecca Erwin Wells, said that mindfulness can teach new ways to respond to stress – a commonly reported migraine trigger.
Professor Wells explained: “Mindfulness may treat the total burden of migraine and could potentially decrease the impact of this debilitating condition.”
While MBSR has roots in spiritual teachings, such as Buddhism, it is a secular programme.
It was developed back in the 1970s, using a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga, and exploration of patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling and action.
The power of MBSR is not only helping those with migraines, it is also booming in other areas and is used to treat people with eating disorders and substance abuse problems.
It is believed that the approach helps to increase self-compassion, which in turn greatly reduces stress and increases self-awareness which serves as an effective treatment.
Let’s hope GPs start offering MBSR courses instead of just pills.