Alternative medicine migraines

Alternative Migraine Treatments | American Migraine Foundation

For some migraine patients, effective treatment extends beyond medication to include alternative treatments and lifestyle changes. We’re answering questions about alternative and nondrug options that may be helpful in your migraine management plan.

When a migraine attack strikes, most people would do anything to get relief. Oftentimes living with migraine means adopting holistic (treating the whole person, not just the symptoms) lifestyle habits. This approach to migraine treatment can make a big difference for those living with migraine—especially given that each person with migraine has different triggers, symptoms and lifestyle factors.

Why might someone want to consider alternative or holistic options?

To start, not every patient has access to medication either due to insurance coverage, side effects or limited number of treatments each month. Others may prefer a more natural route, or haven’t responded well to certain medications, or even want to prevent medication overuse headache. Some may be interested in combining holistic treatments with more common therapies to better relieve, reduce or prevent migraine symptoms.

Regardless of your approach, it’s important to work with your doctor to create a personal migraine management plan.

What vitamins and supplements are most helpful for treating migraine?

Nutraceuticals are food and dietary supplements that help people experience relief from migraine symptoms. Some of the most common vitamins and supplements recommended for migraine include riboflavin (vitamin B2), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), magnesium, melatonin and feverfew.

Some people with migraine may have slightly low levels of these vitamins and minerals and supplementation may be helpful. However, even in people who have normal levels of these vitamins and minerals, taking them at certain doses can reduce migraine frequency.

Can exercise help you avoid a migraine?

For some people, intense exercise is a migraine trigger. But research also shows that regular exercise has the power to reduce migraine attacks. Brisk walking, swimming and other forms of gentle, low-impact movement are all great ways to help prevent migraine. These activities increase blood flow, release tension and improve sleep.

More specifically, people who practice yoga along with taking migraine medication have fewer and less severe headaches than those who only take medication. Deep breathing, body awareness and meditation help relieve stress and relax muscles.

Download our free guide to staying active with migraine

Over time, you can increase how often and how long you exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, is a good goal to set for yourself. Be sure to also drink plenty of fluids and eat regular, healthy meals. This will help you stay active without getting too tired. And, as with any new form of therapy, check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Will a regular sleep schedule help manage migraine symptoms?

As many as 50% to 75% of people with chronic pain and headache disorders experience insomnia. When it comes to migraine, sleep and headache are often part of a cycle. Poor sleep, whether it’s not enough or of poor quality, can trigger migraine attacks. In return, migraine symptoms can disturb sleep and cause ongoing head pain.

A regular sleep schedule is crucial for the brain because the brain thrives on consistency. It can help you prevent and manage migraine symptoms. Sleep may even help ease up your migraine symptoms during an attack. But spending a lot of time in bed during the day can throw off your sleep cycles. Good sleep habits include setting a regular bedtime and wake time, making your bed a sleep-only zone, storing electronics outside the bedroom and maintaining a wind-down routine before bed.

Does acupuncture work for migraine?

There is some evidence that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency of headaches for people with migraine. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice that is believed to balance the flow of energy (or “chi”) in your body. During acupuncture, a practitioner inserts very fine needles into different parts of your body. They may use five to 20 needles, which stay in place for 20 to 45 minutes.

Chinese philosophy supports the idea that the needles add chi where it’s lacking or remove chi where it’s blocked. Adding and removing chi is believed to improve overall health. The needles increase blood flow and change endorphin levels (chemicals the body releases to decrease pain).

To get the best results, researchers recommend people with migraine receive acupuncture once or twice a week for eight to 10 sessions. The number of sessions may vary depending on how often you get migraine symptoms and how much pain they cause. Be sure to check the credentials of your acupuncturist to make sure they are reputable and experienced. Many states require a certification or license to practice acupuncture.

What pressure points relieve migraine symptoms?

Treatments that target specific pressure points on the body, such as acupressure (applying pressure or massage) and acupuncture, help relieve stress, pain and muscle tension in those spots. They also can help you feel more relaxed, less stressed and can help you sleep better.

Migraine pressure points used for prevention and treatment include points on the ears, hands, face, feet and neck. Many of these spots are areas of tension that people instinctively press on to relieve stress, headache pain and muscle tension.

Can nerve stimulators work for migraine?

Nerve stimulation devices are medical tools that use electrical currents or magnets to change activity in the brain. Some devices can stop attacks that are already underway, while others can prevent attacks. While these devices can be portable, others may require surgery for placement.

There are neuromodulation devices that received approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are no longer experimental. While most require a prescription, there are some over-the-counter devices that have been approved by the FDA.

Neuromodulation devices can be great alternatives for people living with migraine who have conditions that prevent them from taking medications, or who are worried about medication overuse headache. Talking with your doctor is the best way to learn if a treatment method like neuromodulation is best for you.

How does behavioral therapy help migraine?

Researchers believe behavioral therapies, a group of action-oriented treatments that focus on the mind, are among the most useful preventive treatments for migraine. These treatments include:

  • Cognitive-based therapy (talk therapy)
  • Biofeedback (a method using electrical sensors to learn to control some of your body’s functions, such as heart rate)
  • Relaxation
  • Mindfulness-based therapy

Research shows that for patients with migraine, behavioral therapies can reduce migraine by 35% to 50%. Its effects are similar to those of preventive medications.

Migraine is a vicious cycle: Stress can trigger migraine symptoms—and migraine pain can put your body in a state of stress, causing the nervous system to become overactive and making symptoms worse. Behavioral therapies give you skills and strategies to manage this stress, which can also help you feel like you have more control in how you respond to symptoms.

What alternative migraine treatments should you avoid?

“Natural” or “nondrug” doesn’t always mean it’s completely safe for everyone. As with any type of treatment, there can be side effects or contraindications (possible negative reactions between the treatment and another medical condition or treatment you’re using), which would be a reason to avoid that option.

Regular sleep, exercise, vitamins and supplements, pressure points, acupuncture and other nondrug treatments can be effective parts of your overall migraine management plan. To see if an alternative treatment is right for you, talk to your primary care provider or headache specialist before adding it to your migraine management plan.

Your doctor understands your medical history, migraine symptoms, other medical conditions, personal preferences and lifestyle factors. This information will help guide your doctor’s recommendations on what to try and what to avoid in ways that are right for you.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.

Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.

Holistic Treatments for Migraine | American Migraine Foundation

Published: November 29, 2018


Deena Kuruvilla explains what patients should know about complementary treatments and how to incorporate them into a migraine management plan

Holistic treatments, otherwise referred to as complementary and integrative treatments, can be particularly beneficial for people living with migraine. However, there is currently not enough evidence to recommend them as a patient’s primary form of treatment, says Dr. Deena Kuruvilla, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine.

Alternative migraine treatments with some proven efficacy include meditation and mindfulness training, acupuncture, essential oils and nutraceuticals, or vitamins and minerals thought to have medicinal benefits, says Dr. Kuruvilla. Research shows that up to 80% of patients living with migraine and headache disorders tried alternative treatments. In fact, many turn to holistic treatments because mainstream treatments have not been effective, may have caused side effects, or they have yet to try them, Dr. Kuruvilla says.

Holistic treatments are to be used in conjunction with mainstream therapies, not serve as a solo approach to migraine treatment, Dr. Kuruvilla says. “There is no substitute for traditional mainstream medicine.”

Risks Associated with Natural Treatments of Migraines

There are some risks associated with holistic treatments. For example, spinal manipulation—a type of integrative treatment—doesn’t have strong evidence supporting its efficacy. Side effects can include dizziness, worsening of headache, neck or muscle tightness, and stroke on rare occasion.

Dr. Kuruvilla adds that there are risks associated with nutraceuticals—including magnesium, riboflavin and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)—as these vitamins do not fall under the FDA’s purview and do not receive FDA approval. “For that reason, we have to be careful with what we’re recommending, and be very cautious when we proceed with recommending nutraceuticals,” she says.

How to Find the Best Treatment for Your Migraines

To determine if a holistic treatment is right for you, Dr. Kuruvilla recommends speaking with your primary care provider or headache specialist, as several factors need to be taken into consideration. Some supplements may interact with standard medications or be contraindicated with other medical conditions.

“The best way to explore integrative options safely is to first discuss them with your health care provider,” she says. “Talk about the risks and the benefits with your doctor. And then, if it’s a good fit, you can move forward with the treatment.” Although it varies from person to person, many people living with migraine have found relief from holistic treatments, Dr. Kuruvilla says.

“If you are somebody who experienced side effects from a lot of mainstream medications—or if you haven’t received complete relief from mainstream treatments—an integrative treatment approach may be helpful for you,” she adds.

Use our Find a Doctor tool to search for a headache specialist in your area, who can develop an individualized treatment plan for you. You can also visit our doctor-verified resource library for additional information on migraine treatment options.

Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.

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Alternative treatments for migraine

Editorial staff of the blog "My Health"

March 30, 2020


Migraine is a disease characterized by intense, prolonged headaches that cannot be stopped by anything. But before moving on to solving this problem, let's deal with its essence.

According to WHO estimates, from 50 to 75% of the world's population experience headaches during the year, a third of them complain of migraine.

What can be considered a migraine?

Not every headache can be called a migraine. Migraine has certain signs: these pains are throbbing, very strong and usually occupy half of the head, while the other remains untouched. Often a migraine in the literal sense of the word knocks a person off his feet and deprives him of working capacity.
The mechanism of pain formation is not fully known, however, over the years, humanity has identified some triggers. The existence of triggers and the strength of their influence on the development of migraine attacks are described in detail by Andreas-Rothrock, King and Rothrock in their work "An analysis of migraine triggers in a clinic-based population". Top triggers that can trigger an attack:

  • stress, fatigue, lack of sleep;
  • diet violation: alcohol, salty, spicy;
  • fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, trips to another climatic zone;
  • hormonal changes: menstruation, pregnancy, abortion, menopause.

Often a migraine, in the truest sense of the word, knocks a person down and makes him unable to work.

So how do you treat a migraine?

Over the centuries of migraine existence, people have been looking for different ways to treat it, ranging from burdock compresses to complex interventions on the brain. Now there are several approaches.

Drug therapy:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - universal painkillers. They cope equally well with a sore knee and with a headache, however, with migraines, they sometimes turn out to be absolutely useless, since the mechanism of pain formation and pain mediators are different. According to the Vidal Drug Guide, NSAIDs suppress prostaglandins released during normal inflammation and do not affect serotonin (the cause of migraine).
  • Ergot preparations are the drugs of choice recommended by the World Health Organization. The alkaloids contained in ergot reduce the synthesis of serotonin, which causes migraine. The drugs of this group work purely for migraine and do not have an effect on tension headaches, since serotonin does not participate in the formation of tension headaches.
  • Triptans. Drugs that block the pain signal at the level of the blockade of the impulses of the trigeminal nerve. They relieve not only headaches, but also other unpleasant symptoms, such as noise and photophobia, nausea and vomiting that occur when the trigeminal nerve is overexcited, according to the research of Professor of Neurology Stefan and Silberstein (Professor of Neurology, Director of the Center for Headache and Cerebral Disasters at Thomas Jefferson University) - here, please, the exact definition of who this statement belongs to. I never understood what it was for.

It is better to discuss the method of combating migraine with your doctor.

Alternative therapy for migraine:

Chinese medicine. According to the research of scientists from the University. Sechenov, physiotherapeutic techniques of Chinese medicine, namely acupuncture and acupressure, have a beneficial effect on the course of migraine. This fact has also been proven by scientists at

Eastwestern College of Natural Medicine in Florida. The impact on various biologically active points is carried out taking into account the diagnosed cause of the disease, the specialist selects the schemes according to the desired effect. The purpose of this effect is to eliminate or minimize the influence of factors provoking an attack: stress, lack of sleep, fatigue, increased muscle tension in the cervical-collar zone, vasospasm.

  • Acupuncture and acupressure. The procedure is familiar to many: injections with thin sterile needles into biologically active zones. According to 22 reviews in the Cochrane Library, with the right selection of points, metabolic processes in the body are accelerated, immunity is increased and performance is improved. The effects of acupuncture are used to treat a huge number of ailments.
  • Thai massage. According to research conducted at the Sean Kang University of Thailand, Thai massage helps to get rid of headaches. The sequence of movements has been corrected for centuries. According to numerous studies by Safonov, massage relaxes the muscles of the neck-collar zone well.

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Alternative treatments for migraine

According to WHO, every third visit to a neurologist is a complaint of excruciating headache. Doctors warn that any headache cannot be tolerated, it must be treated. This applies, of course, to migraine, so adequate drug therapy plays a big role. Timely medication can not only stop the pain, but also reduces the frequency of the attack. But specialists attach no less importance to non-drug methods of treating a migraine attack - physiotherapy, hypnosis, acupuncture. It is very important to find your own way of relief. Some benefit from hot compresses, others from contrast showers, and almost all from a dark, quiet room.


A new way to better understand your body's response is to use a set of technologies based on the principles of biofeedback (neurofeedback). Thanks to special equipment, during therapy, the patient observes how data on heart rate and muscle tension are displayed on the screen, that is, he sees information about any change in his physiological parameters, he seems to be looking into his physiological mirror. With the help of a visual picture, the patient learns to control and change these reactions at will in a given direction. After such training, the patient is easier to cope with stress, therefore, the chance of an "explosive" reaction is reduced. To date, biofeedback is considered one of the most promising options for preventing an attack if the migraine trigger is stress or severe emotional stress. The effectiveness of the method depends on the perseverance of the patient, his motivation and social adaptation.


Stimulation of biologically active points helps to cope with headaches at the initial stage, even with migraine. But it should be carried out by a certified specialist who takes into account all contraindications and conducts a session in sterile conditions. It is necessary to clearly know all the reflex zones and stimulate them correctly. Only in this case can a positive result be expected.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral Therapy is one proven treatment for migraine. The psychologist teaches the patient to properly respond to stress, manage his emotions, offers adequate ways to overcome conflicts, improves communication skills .


A good massage improves blood circulation, helps to relax and relieve spasm. Massage can be done by yourself, but in the initial period of headache. You must first consult with a massage therapist and take a few massage lessons from him, so as not to harm yourself. Massage should not be done at high temperature, in the presence of tumors, with acute headache, with unusual symptoms that suddenly joined the attack.

Jacobson muscle relaxation or autogenic training

If the patient is overly emotional and anxious, then Jacobson neuromuscular relaxation can be used. The technique allows you to relax the skeletal muscles, thereby removing the excitation of the nervous system. This relaxation is very popular with psychotherapists, as it gives excellent results. Thanks to relaxation, background tension is removed, negative emotions go away, a person calms down. The technique is simple and easy to master.


Hirudotherapy is considered a good method of getting rid of headaches. Hirudin, which is found in the saliva of leeches, is a unique substance with a healing effect. It thins the blood, has an anti-inflammatory effect and improves blood circulation. In addition to hirudin, which enters through the blood, the leech releases a histamine-like substance that expands the capillaries. The use of leeches is not indicated for everyone, there are certain contraindications: oncology, changes in the coagulation system, allergies, exhaustion. The location of the leech is determined by the hirudotherapist. With a headache, leeches are placed on the shoulders, neck and behind the ear area. Leeches stick only on reflexogenic zones. Therefore, the doctor gives her the opportunity to choose the necessary point herself within a radius of 2-3 cm from the place determined by him. After removing the leech, there may be bleeding, so it is not recommended to remove the bandage for a while. The effect of hirudotherapy will be noticeable after 2-3 sessions.

Classical physiotherapy

Physiotherapy sessions are aimed at stopping an attack or preventing it. At the beginning of an attack, cold lotions on the temples, an ice pack (in the stage of vasodilation), a hot bath, heating pads - in the stage of vasoconstriction can help. In addition to local physical treatment during the attack itself, the procedures have proven themselves well in the period between attacks.

Of traditional physiotherapy, doctors most often offer courses of sessions:

  • electrophoresis with drugs on the collar area or through the nasal mucosa;
  • darsonvalization;
  • magnetotherapy;
  • topical cryotherapy;
  • mud applications on the collar area;


Non-drug treatments for migraine help both during attacks and between attacks.

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