Anyone who’s ever suffered from a migraine knows all too well that it’s much more than a bad headache. With a migraine attack comes a slew of debilitating symptoms, ranging from depression and anxiety to sensitivity to light and sound, temporary loss of sight, numbness and tingling, and an inability to concentrate, not to mention nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and feeling like you’re being hammered in the head by an icepick.
Around 14 percent of the population experience migraines, which can be either episodic (0 to 14 headaches per month) or chronic (15 or more headaches per month), according to academic research. Many migraine sufferers would probably say they’d try just about anything to alleviate the pain of this enerving disorder. A new study published in May 2020 in the medical journal Neurology shows that yoga as a supplemental remedy to traditional medical therapy is an effective form of migraine treatment. In fact, the researchers found that yoga as an auxiliary therapy was more successful for migraine pain relief than medical treatment alone.
According to the healthcare website Healio, Anand Kumar, MD, a lead researcher of the Neurology study, said that half of patients with migraines have historically reported dissatisfaction with their medical treatment strategies, while the other half might experience effective results from medication or other preventative drug treatments. Moreover, around 10 percent of migraine patients discontinue their medications due to negative side-effects. These frustrations created an opportunity for researchers to explore alternative healing modalities for migraine, like yoga.
The participants in the study who practiced yoga in conjunction with their migraine medication needed less medication as a result, and experienced a notable reduction in both headache intensity and frequency.
The three-month study randomly assigned 160 adults (ages 18–50) who experience episodic migraine with or without aura (a migraine with sensory disturbances) to either a combination of medical treatment and yoga practice or medical therapy only. The yoga participants practiced three supervised sessions a week for four weeks at a medical research center in New Delhi, India, followed by five sessions per week at home for the duration of the study.
The results concluded that the yoga group experienced more relief from migraine in conjunction with their medication than the medical therapy group alone.
This isn’t the first time that yoga has been studied and tested for its efficacy on migraine and headache relief, either. In 2014, a study published in the International Journal of Yoga, found similar results, noting that yoga therapy, when practiced alongside conventional care, showed a significant improvement in patients with migraine when compared to the control group. Moreover, this study noted an improvement in vagal tone and a reduction in sympathetic (fight-or-flight) activity in the patients who received yoga therapy. Another study published in 2011 by the American Headache Society recorded the prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among those with headache and migraine disorders as a potential alternative to ineffective medical treatment.
While the details of the specific yoga postures and practices were not publicly disclosed by any of these studies, it’s safe to say that any yoga poses that relieve tension in the neck, or cervical spine, would be a great place to start, such as seated neck stretches, Bridge Pose (with or without support), just about any type of forward fold, Constructive Rest—to alleviate anxiety and help facilitate deep diaphragmatic breathing—and of course, Savasana.