How it works: Stress is one of the major migraine triggers. Although everyone experiences stress on the day-to-day and stress is unavoidable, learning to control the body’s response to daily stressors is one way to help reduce migraines. Biofeedback uses a small device that measures a bodily response, often muscle tension or skin temperatures, as a person tries to change their body’s response. There is a monitor so a person can see how they are doing at relaxing their muscles or warming their hands. These two particular responses are examples of the body’s way of responding to stress. When a person feels particularly stressed their muscles might tense and their hands may get cold. A person’s hands get cold because there are responses in the body that are called fight or flight responses and one of these responses is for the blood to shunt away from the extremities and other areas that aren’t essential to fleeing. Biofeedback helps with recognizing and changing stress in the body. Practicing with feedback helps a person improve their ability to reduce stress, even without feedback, in other situations. These skills can then be used to prevent, stop or reduce headaches.
Evidence in children: In five studies investigating Biofeedback techniques as a therapy to prevent migraines in children, biofeedback techniques were found to reduce migraine headache days, the length of migraine attacks, and headache pain in all five. One issue was that most of these studies were not conducted in a way where there were no biases or other factors that might have been causing the improvements. That being said, an overall conclusion is that biofeedback appears to be an effective therapy for children with migraine. 1
Cautions: There are very few, if any, cautions for relaxation training/biofeedback/ stress management. They can be useful therapies stand-alone or in combination with medications. The only downside is potential cost and time commitment. These trainings can be hard work for a child and their family but ultimately with little to no negative side effects and generally positive outcomes.
To learn more about Relaxation/Biofeedback/Stress Management please visit the American Migraine Foundation’s page on these techniques for a comprehensive explanation.
1. Stubberud, A., Varkey, E., McCrory, D. C., Pedersen, S. A. & Linde, M. Biofeedback as Prophylaxis for Pediatric Migraine: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics 138, (2016).