"Learning to live with it"

I was reading a Facebook post today where someone talked about her doctor telling her to "learn to live with her migraines" using biofeedback and other pain management skills rather than medications. As a headache doc, I have to put in my two cents. This expression "learning to live with pain" has been a sore point with me since I first started treating chronic pain and headache patients over a couple decades ago. Dealing with tough headaches can really be a challenge with lots of trial and error to find a program that works. And usually this involves the combination of drug and non-drug therapies.

A lot of non-drug treatments, like biofeedback, actually have the same benefit for the average migraine sufferer as any of the most effective medications. When doctors suggest non-drug treatments, this shouldn't be thought of as a "learn to live with it" message. Pain management skills are not about shutting up, sucking it up, and not complaining. These techniques are actually designed to balance the same neurochemicals that migraine drugs work on.

When you learn skills like relaxation, biofeedback, stress management, and coping techniques, your doctor expects that your pain levels and migraine symptoms will improve. Maybe you'll have fewer episodes, maybe they won't be so severe, maybe they won't last as long. You doctor doesn't expect that the symptoms will be just as bad, but you will have learned to stop complaining.

Also, migraine treatment generally doesn't need to be an either-or proposition. You either take drugs OR use non-drug techniques. You either have your migraine improved OR you "learn to live with it." Research consistently shows that people get the best results from their migraine treatment with they combine drug PLUS non-drug therapies. When your doctor suggests non-drug treatments, that doesn't mean he has given up on you, thrown in the towel for helping with your migraine, or decided you don't need medications. Non-drug treatments are real therapy and not just "learning to live with it."

If you're wondering why a specific non-drug treatment was recommended for you or about combining non-drug treatments with medications, talk to your doctor. Take advantage of the full assortment of available and effective treatment options. Finding just the right therapies is often difficult and frustrating. You shouldn't feel though that you have to just "learn to live with it."

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