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Mind-Body Therapies for Headache

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Apr 29, 2008

Mind-Body-Spirit News

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the use of mind-body therapies, in combination with each other or alone, to reduce symptoms of migraine, tension and mixed-type headaches, according to a research review published in the journal American Family Physician (2007; 76 [10]; 1518–22, 1523–24). Authors of the review defined mind-body medicine as focusing on “interactions among the brain, mind, body and behaviors, and on the ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual and behavioral factors can affect health.” Common mind-body therapies include biofeedback, cognitive behavior therapy, guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, psycho-educational approaches and relaxation training.

The investigators conducted a meta-analysis of hundreds of randomized, controlled, clinical trials that included studies of adults, adolescents and children suffering from a variety of headache types. Investigators noted, among other findings, that relaxation training, biofeedback, stress management training and cognitive behavior therapy, in combination or alone, reduced migraine symptoms in adults by 32%–49% compared with those who received no treatment. For children and adolescent sufferers of chronic headaches, biofeedback, relaxation training and cognitive behavior therapy reduced the severity and frequency of headaches by more than 50%.

Side effects from mind-body treatments generally are minimal, especially compared with the potential adverse reactions to drug therapy. Some patients, however, are fearful of mind-body therapies, and others experience intrusive thoughts or distressing sensory reactions, such as chest pain. The authors of this review recommend that provider and patient maintain a good clinical relationship when initiating and continuing these therapies.

For more information or training on mind-body therapies, see the following resources:

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at