“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.”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (17)
  • Janet
    8 years ago

    dr. marcus, thank you so much for your advice. i will check out the book. i have been on a migraine diet all my life and vitamin and mineral control for migraines as well i.e. CO Q 10, magnesium, B 6, butterfur, melatonin as of late. i tried that for 4 or 6 weeks. then my husband went on the UCLA Headache Clinic website and read an article and on the last page he read about an alzheimer drug, namenda (my mom happens to be on it). called my doctor and she put me on it right away. she has one patient on it who was unresponsive, like me to all other meds tried, and believe me i’ve been on ALL of them. namenda worked…unfortunately after about 2 weeks the side effects were life threatening…my hands and feet were so purple and cold i was taken off it immediately and the old stand by topamax has been reintroduced. after 35 years of this merry go round i promise to read the book and see what could possible help. i have no memory, i stutter, i forget as soon as i start to do something and God has blessed me with a patient husband. this last bout had me in bed for 6 days and i am very familiar with rebound headaches. that is what landed me in the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago 6 years ago. a doctor here in las vegas told me i could take as many imitrex as i needed as often as i needed; so i was up to 3 a day for 9 months….i’m trying to stay away from fioricet. my abortives are relpax, treximet, zomig. i am on flexeril for degenerative disc disease in my neck and librium for anxiety. i weaned off valium and ambien in the past 2 months which was very very difficult being on that for 7 years. i am experiencing depression and panic attacks in the morning, but i pray that will go away in time. i am thinking namenda has something to do with that. i became very aggressive on namenda and moody, but it did reduce the migraines 50%. thank you for your response. nobody knows what i go through except my care minister at church who is absent due to a massive coronary he had on jaunary 10 (age 57)and my husband just doesn’t get it..he watches it, but if he sees me up and about he thinks i can function…i fake it when i can but it’s so hard. God Bless You Dr. Marcus. with respect, Janet Jones

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Barbetta –There’s often debate among headache experts about what to do for patients who have good results with sumatriptan (Imitrex) or similar medications when they become seniors. Should the medication be discontinued or can you still use it if you don’t have heart disease or heart disease risk factors. Doctors often don’t agree on what the right answer is. This is why most doctors err on the side of caution and stop prescribing at a certain age. The good news for you is that you still have several years to work on getting your migraines under control with other treatments while you can still use sumatriptan as a back up. Talk to your doctor and tell him what’s working, what’s not working, and develop a plan that you’ll be able to use after 60. You didn’t mention if you had tried a variety of non-drug techniques and several nutritional products can also be helpful. Today, the most effective acute migraine drugs for the most severe migraines are medications like sumatriptan, but new treatments are always being developed. For example, clinical trials have been conducted testing an inhaled carbon dioxide for migraine. While it doesn’t help everyone, a number of people in the clinical trials did get benefit. So don’t despair — new treatments are often on the horizon.

  • Cindy Stotts
    8 years ago

    I’ve had a doctor tell me to learn to live with the migraine pain. It’s not that bad. That is bull!

  • Lucy Orton Hall
    8 years ago

    I drink cup of coffee 75% of the time it works in minuntes.

  • Barbetta Reedy
    8 years ago

    I have had my migraines now for 34 yrs and all I heard from the drs were its all in your head, I’ll take you off the drug when you reach 225 lbs, don’t understand why this drug isn’t working for you when it does others, and my latest one is this the Veteran Adminstration went to generic sumatriptan tablets from Cobalt Labs they should just be fine but they aren’t because I have a drug interaction with prevacid that I take and they don’t work like the brand name imitrex so where do I go from here when I have migraines at least 15 to 16 days a month? I have tried biofeedback and yes it does work for some of my small headaches, learning to put them behind a red door and blowing them up works too but when I wake up with the pain at the base of my skull and the migraine is full blown what do I do? I just wish that drs would believe you when you say that the generic drugs don’t work we should know our own system and what works and what don’t. I just wish mime would just go away! I will be taken off imitrex at the age of 60 which is only 5 yrs away what do I do then?

  • Barbetta
    8 years ago

    I have had my migraines now for 34 yrs. I have heard it all from the drs such as its all in your head, I’ll take you off the drug when you reach 225lbs, when you get to the age of 60 they will go away and the latest is from the Veteran Admistration that the generic sumatriptan tablets from Cobalt Labs are the same as brand name imitrex. Well they are not because I have had a drug interaction between the tablets and prevacid that I take for acid reflux disease. This drug from Cobalt labs interferres with prevacid and the drs won’t listen. I have 2 boxes of it that I will not touch because I am fearful of it wiping the prevacid out of my system. The drs think the generic is the same but it isn’t doesn’t have the same ingredients in the tablets. Yes, I have tried biofeedback it works on the small headaches that I get but on the ones that I wake up from in the mornings where the pain is back of my skull and the migraine is full blown the only thing that works is sumatriptan and naproxen. I want to know what is out there when they take me off of sumatriptan when I reach 60 which is only 5 years from now? I have been on imitrex since it came out and it is the only drug where I don’t have to be taken off because I would get used to the drugs. But I would rethink the drug Topamx it causes alot of side effects such as lost of concentration, finishing sentences. I was on this drug for 5 yrs, 400mg to 600mg and it did all that to me and to this day I still have lost of concentration and finishing sentences. I have been off of it for 4 to 5 yrs now. It did one thing it did work the first year cut my headaches down and I lost weight. But after that it didn’t work but the drs said to give it some more time until I said that I couldn’t finish the sentences and then they took me off right away. Dr Marcus is there anything out there that is just as good as imitrex? Thank you for listening. I am glad I found this website.

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Check out the free book giveaway here at Migraine.com for my book The Woman’s Migraine Toolkit to that includes a range of non-traditional and non-drug migraine treatments.Here’s the link: http://migraine.com/blog/living-with-migraine/book-giveaway-the-womans-migraine-toolkit/

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Ms. Jones — there are lots of effective non-drug treatments and nutritional therapies to try. Check out the links suggested in the comments above for resources at this site. You can also check to see if your library has a copy of my book, “The Woman’s Migraine Toolkit,” which includes lots of non-drug therapies you can try. Also, have a talk with your doctor about the plans for Topamax. Often, doctors have patients use a prevention drug like Topamax for short-term while headaches get back under control. Once migraines have been controlled for several months, people can often be weaned off of their prevention therapies and continue to do well for months or years off of the medication. Some doctors think the medications help “re-set the balance” of brain chemicals and once re-set, non-drug treatments can keep the balance in check. Be sure to let your doctor know about the problems you’re having and find out about other options. Don’t be afraid to speak up and find out what other options are available for you.

  • Cyndi Jordan
    8 years ago

    I hope this article gets the wide audience it deserves. I know many people who get defeated believing that they have been told they just have to “grin and bear it” when non- pharmacological modalities are suggested. I have also had doctors who had nothing to off but meds and those who have truly taken the “grin and bear it” approach. This is a complex disease which obviously needs a multi-faceted approach. Great patient and physician information!

  • Dawn A Marcus
    8 years ago

    Glad you’ve found a regimen that works for you, David. Much of migraine management is trial and error, so kudos on the hard work to find out your best regimen! Dr. Marcus

  • Janet
    8 years ago

    Dr. Marcus, i have been a migraine sufferer for 35 years. my first one was when i was 20 years old and happened at work. i had no idea what was happening. all of a sudden i couldn’t see. it was like looking through broken glass. i covered one eye…then the other. i started to get numb on the left side of my body, starting with the tips of my fingers on my left hand, then the left side of my face…my boss called an ambulance. this was 1976. it took over 2 1/2 hours for someone to tell me i was having a Classic Migraine. for 3 years inderal took care of the problem. for years i was migraine free. they resurfaced during the pregnancy of my daughter at age 29 and stayed for years. left again until we moved from chicago to las vegas. in december 2004 i spent 9 days in chicago at the diamond headache clinic where i was taught biofeedback (although i was told i was not a good patient). the technician said i didn’t know how to relax. at the clinic we were taught anger management. the problem with a lot of the non medicinal treatments (which i choose over ANY drug) is if you don’t have family support you’re kind of out in the ocean without a life preserver. i would really like to know what i can do on my own, self teaching, since my migraine doctor has given up on me and put me back on topamax (a drug i HATE ). any suggestions please. i had 5 days migraine free…but that’s over. thank you

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    David – Good job working hard to find a regimen that works for you. Unfortunately, much of migraine treatment still relies on trial and error to find out what’s the best fit for you and your migraines. Keep up the good work! Dr. Marcus

  • David
    8 years ago

    I agree fullheartedly with Dr. Marcus. I currently use chiropractic adjustment, massage therapy, and electric stimulation therapy along with a prescribed pain killer when needed. I have been dianosed with three types of migraines that seem to come simutaneously or within hours of each other, and this process makes the pain tolerable…..at times.

    David D.

  • Amrita Bhowmick, MPH moderator
    8 years ago

    Hi Everyone – Thanks for your comments! If you are interested in learning more about complementary/alternative therapies, you can read more here: http://migraine.com/complimentary-and-alternative-therapies/

    Also, as Dr. Marcus mentioned, we also have a page on biofeedback: http://migraine.com/migraine-treatment/natural-remedies/biofeedback/

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Check out the entries made on Nov 29th on biofeedback and complementary/alternative therapies. You can find them by typing the word “biofeedback” into the search box at the top of this page.

    The most effective non-drug treatments include relaxation (including a type of relaxation called biofeedback), stress management, and what are called cognitive behavioral therapies where you change your attitudes about and responses to migraines. These techniques are best taught by a behavioral psychologist. This is not the same as psychotherapy. Instead, with behavioral therapies, you’re learning specific techniques. Aerobic exercise is often helpful. And you should also make sure you’re doing important lifestyle changes, like scheduling your sleep, not skipping meals, staying hydrated, not smoking, etc. In my book, The Woman’s Migraine Toolkit, we spend a lot of time talking about effective, nondrug, nontraditional, and nutritional therapies because these can be so effective for so many people. Again, these are best used as part of a full migraine treatment program, so don’t feel like you have to choose traditional vs. non-traditional. That’s why many doctors call these therapies “complementary” instead of “alternative” because they are often used in conjunction with other, more traditional approaches to migraine management.

  • damy
    8 years ago

    So far, my doctor has not offered me any alternative therapies. Which ones do you suggest I ask my doctor about?

  • minni4216
    8 years ago

    I have to say I have learn to stay away from alot of things so I won’t get a Migraine.But no one can make you stay in pain if you go to doctor office or ER they have to give you something.What I have also learn to do is give me my owe shots.And if that don’t work then I take one to two Lorazepams and go to bed and hope when I get up its gone.

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