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Headache Relief using Mind Body Treatment

February 19, 2010 by  

With up to 80% of the general population experiencing headaches at some time in their lives, this is the most common pain condition I treat.

The average patient is referred to me after more than three years of suffering chronic headaches that have significantly affected their lives. Most report headaches interfering with work as well as fun activities. They also report that their headaches have greatly affected their families’ lives. Many people state that they have had so many headaches, that they have just stopped making family plans due to anticipation of having a headache.

All have tried numerous medications along with diet and alternative medical approaches such as herbs, acupuncture and massage. Some have considered surgery or implanted devices in the hopes that this will stop the headaches.

While these strategies can be of help to many people, for most they offer less relief than hoped. Too often it is only when all else has been tried and failed that they finally try mind/body strategies. While it is never too late, using mind/body strategies earlier on may have lead to relief.

Well over 25 years of research has shown that treatments that include mind/body techniques have been found to be more clinically effective and cost effective than conventional medical care, including medication and physical therapy. The most common mind/body strategies include biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy.

These strategies yield a 45% to 75% reduction in headache frequency and severity. This is better than the results found from taking medications and is without negative side effects.

If you have been experiencing recurrent headaches, talk with your physician about learning mind/body strategies. Learning mind/body strategies for reducing headache pain usually involves meeting with a specialist weekly for one hour over the course of 8 to 12 weeks. Homework needs to be practiced daily for maximum results. You will probably be asked to keep a record of your headache frequency and intensity so that you can see the progress in the early stages of your treatment. Usually the most notable progress occurs after about 4 weeks of training.

While working with a specialist is the most effective strategy for reducing headache pain, many find considerable relief by listening to recorded relaxation instructions and practicing at home. Many audio relaxation programs are sold on line or at local bookstores. These can be very effective for many people as long as they practice consistently and don’t expect significant progress for a few weeks. Most find the investment of time and energy to be worthwhile.

In future posts, I will discuss the different types of headaches and review specific strategies for treating each headache type. I will also review how other mind/body strategies such as biofeedback and cognitive behavioral strategies are applied in headache treatment.

If you would like to find a psychologist in your area who specializes in mind/ body strategies for managing headaches, ask your local psychological association.

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