Complementary Therapies for Migraines

Learn how acupuncture and mind-body therapies can work alongside conventional migraine treatments like medications.

Person gets accupuncture on back.

Updated on November 17, 2023

Migraines are a neurological condition that can cause severe, recurring headaches as well as other symptoms—including nausea, weakness, sensitivity to light and sound, visual disturbances, numbness, and tingling.

Symptoms can vary from person to person. The frequency of migraine attacks can also vary. Some people only experience the occasional migraine. For others, migraines are a near-daily occurrence.

Anyone experiencing migraine attacks should discuss their symptoms with a healthcare provider. Initial evaluation may take place during an appointment with a primary care provider (the provider you see for annual exams or when you are ill).

But many people with migraines will be treated by a neurologist who specializes in headache disorders.

Treating migraines

There is no cure for migraines, but there are ways to prevent migraine attacks as well as medications that can help halt and shorten the duration of migraine attacks when they occur.

Treatment will depend on factors like the frequency of attacks, the severity of symptoms, how having migraines affects a person’s everyday life, and their response to previous treatments, as well as other considerations about their overall health and medical history.

People who only have the occasional migraines may be able to get by treating with over-the-counter pain relief medications. For more severe or more frequent migraines, a person may be given a prescription medication to take at the onset of symptoms.

People with chronic migraine—who experience 15 or more headache days a month—will need a preventive therapy that is taken regularly.

Complementary therapies

Also called integrative therapies, complementary therapies refer to therapies that are used together with conventional medicine. This approach is different from alternative therapies, which are used in place of conventional medicine.

For example, a person may take a pain-relieving medication prescribed by their healthcare provider when they experience a migraine attack. They may also practice yoga to reduce stress (which is a common migraine trigger).

In this example, the pain-relieving medication is the conventional medicine and practicing yoga is the complementary therapy.

Common complementary therapies for migraines include:

  • Acupuncture. A technique from traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting very thin—and sterile—needles into specific points on the body. Though it may sound intimidating, the process is almost always painless.
  • Meditation. A practice of focusing attention, calming the mind, and relaxing the body. Mindfulness meditation is the type of meditation that has gotten the most attention from migraine researchers.
  • Yoga. This mind-body therapy originates from India and combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.
  • Biofeedback. This technique is similar to meditation, with the added element of real-time information about what’s happening in the body. It utilizes electronic sensors that monitor things like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. The goal is to learn to better control these processes in the body.
  • Nutraceuticals. This approach involves taking nutritional supplements, such as feverfew. But before you begin, it’s particularly important to speak to your healthcare provider. Some supplements may be beneficial, but everyone’s nutritional needs are different.

If you are interested in adding a complementary therapy to your migraine treatment plan, start by talking to your healthcare provider about the risks, potential benefits, and your treatment goals.

Article sources open article sources

MedlinePlus. Migraine. Last updated May 5, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. Migraine Headaches. Reviewed March 3, 2021.
American Migraine Foundation. Frequently Asked Questions About Migraine Symptoms. Accessed November 17, 2023.
Mayo Clinic. Migraine. July 7, 2023.
NHS. Migraine: Treatment. Last reviewed September 15, 2022.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? Last updated April 2021.
Better Health Channel. Complementary therapies. Reviewed July 29, 2021.
American Migraine Foundation. Integrative and Complementary Migraine Treatments. Accessed November 17, 2023.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Acupuncture. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Acupuncture.
Mayo Clinic. Biofeedback. March 18, 2023.
Victor Sierpina, John Astin, James Giordano. Mind-Body Therapies for Headache. American Family Physician, 2007. Vol. 76, No. 10.
American Migraine Foundation. Nutraceuticals for Migraine Treatment. May 17, 2018.

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