Most of us experience a few headaches around the holidays. But for the at least 10 percent of the population who suffer from migraines, it’s an especially dangerous time. Stress, interrupted sleep, stiff cocktails and strong fragrances—all common triggers—are especially hard to avoid this month. And no one wants to be out of commission when there’s no time to spare.
But it just might be a happier holiday for migraine patients this year, as new research and techniques are making prevention more possible than ever. Read on for just a few of the developments to celebrate.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved Cefaly, an at-home device that’s attached to a patient’s forehead by electrodes. The futuristic-looking halo device delivers electric stimulation to the trigeminal nerve in the brain to reduce pain. Belgian researchers found that using it 20 minutes a day for three months decreased migraines by nearly two days per month on average. The one-time out-of-pocket cost is $349, plus a recurring $25 for electrodes.
Lesser-known migraine triggers are emerging, which could lead to more treatment options. At a meeting of the American Pain Society, Mayo Clinic in Phoenix professor of neurology David W. Dodick, MD, reported that obesity causes you to be five times more migraine-prone and being depressed causes a three-fold risk increase. Head injuries, snoring and excess caffeine can also promote pounding.
East Meets West
New research from Georgetown University found that, in rats, a daily electroacupuncture treatment targeting the leg below the knee suppressed the release of stress hormones by the central stress pathway known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Quieting this pathway may prevent the chronic tension that can bring on a migraine, says lead researcher Ladan Eshkevari.
Biofeedback therapy can activate the body’s relaxation response, providing relief from migraines, says Lindsay Hollmuller, a counselor at Dallas Integrative Counseling. Patients are connected to electronic sensors that provide information about heart rate, skin temperature and muscle tension. They’re then coached to make changes, such as relaxing certain muscles, and observe the mind-body effects. Over time, they learn to invoke these physical responses on their own to alleviate stress and prevent migraines.
Roll With It
Some migraine sufferers find relief through self-massage programs like the MELT Method, developed by manual therapist Sue Hitzmann. Using a soft foam roller and small balls, MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) stimulates and rehydrates connective tissue, helping the body release physical tension and mental stress that can cause a migraine.