Biofeedback for Headache

Continued research has shown biofeedback to be a viable therapeutic tool in the treatment of headaches.

What is it?  |  How does it Work?  |  Resources

What Is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is an evidence-based, non-medication therapy used in the treatment of headache, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, neuro-muscular dysfunction, and many other conditions. With regard to headache, biofeedback is used preventatively and acutely to manage headache symptoms and ultimately reduce headache frequency and intensity.

Biofeedback trains you to control bodily functions that were once thought to be outside of voluntary control, such as heart rate, hand temperature, and muscle tension. With daily practice, research shows that biofeedback can be as effective as some medications and works best in combination with the medication prescribed by your headache specialist. In a five-year retrospective study, 85% of adults and 90% of children who regularly engaged in temperature and electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback techniques showed significant reduction in headache severity, duration, and frequency.

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How Does Biofeedback For Headache Work?

There are two types of biofeedback that have shown to be effective for migraineurs: thermal biofeedback and EMG biofeedback. The rationale behind thermal biofeedback as a treatment for migraine is embedded in the vascular theory. This theory purports that head pain is a result of blood vessel constriction, which often leaves the hands feeling cold. As such, biofeedback works by helping you learn to warm your hands and thus, dilate your blood vessels. EMG biofeedback, on the other hand, helps you to notice and control muscle tension. Biofeedback equipment provides instantaneous results on your bodily processes as you learn to better control them.

With thermal biofeedback, a finger thermometer is used to measure hand temperature, which provides information about nervous system arousal and blood flow. In EMG biofeedback, sensors are attached to your muscles (on the skin surface) in order to provide you information on your tension level. In both types of biofeedback, a behavioral health provider can walk you through a set of instructions to help you increase your hand temperature and decrease your muscle tension.

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Biofeedback Exercises

Use these audio clips to help you with your relaxation exercises:

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Headache Center