Migraine headaches are what started me on my quest for improving my nutrition. When I started actively working on daily meditation and mindfulness I never expected to see an outcome of reduction of migraine headaches. Even though I was leading a life with chronic stress, I never associated them as a cause to my increasing migraines. While I do firmly believe my dietary changes have reduced my migraines I believe, DAILY meditation is a very helpful tool in reducing or eliminating migraines.
As a nurse, I regularly see people looking for quick fixes and magic pills for EVERYTHING. Many people are not willing to put in the effort required to see the outcomes that can be achieved from complimentary, holistic based care. Although my evidence for myself is anecdotal, there is research to support my personal findings. Below I will provide some of the factual information I have found supporting my efforts and then I will conclude with how to get started with using meditation to improve health outcomes.
Loving Kindness Meditation
A study by Tonelli & Wachholz investigated the effectiveness of the loving kindness meditation technique on migraines.
Twenty seven participants with two to ten migraines per month were evaluated for the effectiveness of meditation on reducing migraines pain and emotional tension. The participants had never tried meditation before. Each were given a guided meditation using the “loving kindness” technique for 20 minutes. After only one session, one third reported a decrease in pain and over forty percent saw a decrease in emotional tension.
Meditation relieves pain through use of endogenous opioids
A study by Sharon, Maron-Katz, Simon, Flusser, Hendler, Tarrasch, and Brill explores pain control and pain control pathways. Endogenous opioids are produced in the brain and have a similar effect on the body as “pain pills”. This study actually used Naloxone to block these natural opioids. Naloxone, for those that don’t know, is the drug used to reverse opioid overdose. So by using naloxone, they essentially would be blocking opioids effects, both naturally produced and synthetic.
Participants were given a mindfulness meditation session and then exposed to a painful stimuli (in this case cold). They were then asked to rate their pain. They were tested with meditation combined with a saline placebo. Then this was compared with testing meditation and naloxone. Findings showed that pain was rated lower with the meditation and placebo, but did not lower when participants were given an opioid blocker combined with meditation. This provides evidence that meditation can actually stimulate your body’s natural opioids.
A complementary treatment option for patients
A meta analysis by Gu, Hou, and Fang reviewed 10 randomized control clinical trials and one controlled clinical study to explore the effectiveness of meditation on migraines. They also concluded that mindfulness meditation may reduce pain intensity.
Meditation practices take time to see results
Research from Wacholtz, Vohra, and Metzger was done to attempt to determine how long it takes to see results from meditation and what types of meditation should be used. Their study compared Spiritual meditation, Internally-focused secular meditation, and Progressive muscle relaxation practices) to a cognitive distraction technique. Participants were given meditation training and asked to keep a headache diary including any medication taken for migraines. They were expected to meditate 20 minutes daily in a quiet setting and keep a headache diary. In their diaries they tracked headache pain as well as scoring emotions including happiness, sadness, calmness, and anger. Interestingly, the scores for did not improve during the first 10 days or the second 10 day interval, but on the third 10 day interval the active meditation group reported significant improvement in pain.
As with many changes, in order to see positive outcomes it takes time and persistence. This article supports the belief that meditation can improve migraines, especially if done consistently.
Personal application and how you can use meditation to improve your migraines
I could keep listing articles with evidence supporting meditation for improving migraines or you could just try it. I suggest giving it 30 days. Habits take time to form and daily meditation may not happen overnight. Although the research above suggests 20 minutes of daily meditation, that might be too much for you to start with. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up, but try not to be disappointed if you don’t notice a difference at first.
I’ve been dabbling in meditation for a while, but just recently have gotten consistent with it. For me, I noticed an improvement in less than 2 weeks. I stopped taking the preventative medication I was taking for medication about 6 weeks ago due to horrible side effects, but had needed my abortive medicines. I haven’t taken a single dose of Imitrex or Excedrin in the last 2 weeks. I will update this article once I have a full 90 days worth of personal data and then again at the one year mark.
With that, I will close this article and end this with a little meditation blessing. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be pain free.
Thank you for taking the time to read my articles.
Gu, Q., Hou, J. C., & Fang, X. M. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation for Primary Headache Pain: A Meta-Analysis. Chinese medical journal, 131(7), 829–838. https://doi.org/10.4103/0366-6999.228242
Sharon, Maron-Katz, Simon, Flusser, Hendler, Tarrasch, & Brill (2016)
Mindfulness Meditation Modulates Pain Through Endogenous Opioids, The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 129, Issue 7, 2016, Pages 755-758
ISSN 0002-9343, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.03.002.
Tonelli and Wachholtz
Meditation-Based Treatment Yielding Immediate Relief for Meditation-Naïve Migraineurs, Pain Management Nursing, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2014, Pages 36-40 ISSN 1524-9042, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmn.2012.04.002.
Wachholtz, Vohra, and Metzger
A reanalysis of a randomized trial on meditation for migraine headaches: Distraction is not enough but meditation takes time
Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 46, 2019, Pages 136-143 ISSN 0965-2299, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.011.