Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

For many people, complementary or alternative therapies offer welcome relief from headache pain. It's important to be cautious, however. Not all complementary or alternative therapies have been studied as headache treatments, and others need further research.

  • Acupuncture. This ancient technique uses hair-thin needles inserted into several areas of your skin at defined points. Studies have shown that acupuncture helps reduce the frequency and intensity of chronic headaches.
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback may be beneficial in treating headaches. In biofeedback, you can learn to control headaches by becoming more aware of and then changing certain bodily responses such as muscle tension, heart rate and skin temperature.
  • Meditation. Practicing meditation can help you relax physically and remain calm mentally. The practice creates a deeply restful state in which your breathing slows and your muscles relax — which can help you manage pain and reduce stress.
  • Massage. Massage can reduce stress, relieve pain and promote relaxation. Although its value as a headache treatment hasn't been determined, massage may be particularly helpful if you have tight, tender muscles in the back of your head, neck and shoulders.
  • Herbs, vitamins and minerals. Some evidence exists that the herbs feverfew and butterbur may prevent migraines or reduce their severity. A high dose of riboflavin (vitamin B-2) also may prevent migraines by correcting tiny deficiencies in brain cells. Coenzyme Q10 supplements may be helpful in some individuals. And oral magnesium sulfate supplements may reduce the frequency of headaches in some people, although studies don't all agree. Ask your doctor if these treatments are right for you. Don't use riboflavin (vitamin B-2), feverfew or butterbur if you're pregnant.
  • Electrical stimulation of the occipital nerve. A small battery-powered electrode is surgically implanted near the occipital nerve, which is at the base of your neck. The electrode sends continuous energy pulses to the nerve to ease pain. This approach is investigational and has shown some good results but is not a standard therapy.

If you'd like to try a complementary or alternative therapy, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.

Mar. 15, 2012