Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2024 | Last updated: April 2024

Migraine is one of the most common neurological disorders, found in around 6 percent of men and 18 percent of women. People living with migraine often use a combination of treatment options to prevent or treat symptoms. While many are familiar with different drug options, there are also complementary therapies that may help.1-4

Complementary therapies can be used to manage triggers and symptoms alongside traditional drug options. Exact treatment options vary based on each person’s symptoms and preferences. New migraine treatments should always be assessed by your doctor to determine how best to manage your symptoms.1

What are migraine triggers?

Migraine triggers are any kind of environmental factor that occurs with an increase in migraine symptoms. Experts are unsure whether migraine triggers directly cause migraines or are a set of symptoms that happen during the “premonitory phase” of migraine. Neck tension, sensitivity to sound or light, and difficulty concentrating are all common.2

Each migraine trigger is typically linked to a related premonitory symptom. For example, bright lights may cause sensitivity to light, or eating a certain food can trigger smell sensitivity. Triggers vary from person to person.2

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are non-drug options for migraine treatment. They include many practices that are not part of conventional Western medicine. Supplements, natural products, and mind-body practices are examples of complementary therapies.4

Many people find that complementary therapies ease their migraine symptoms. Some therapies may also reduce the frequency of attacks.4

Sometimes, making lifestyle changes to minimize migraine triggers is sufficient. But there are also more concrete complementary treatment options that you may find work for you.4

What kinds of complementary therapies are there?

There are many kinds of complementary therapies available, including:3,4

  • Neuromodulation tools – Includes electrical trigeminal nerve stimulation, noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation, and single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Neuromodulation devices are most effective for acute treatment rather than preventative treatment.
  • Behavioral therapy – Includes cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and relaxation-based therapies, and acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness meditation may also help reduce medicine overuse.
  • Mind/body practices – Includes practices like yoga and tai chi
  • Food and dietary supplements – Examples include vitamin D, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), magnesium, folic acid, omega 3s, melatonin, and feverfew
  • Exercise – Gentle, low-impact exercise can help reduce migraine frequency. But for some people, intense exercise can trigger migraine attacks.
  • Proper sleep habits – Poor sleep can be both a cause and an effect of migraine. Adopting good sleep habits can help you sleep better and manage migraine symptoms.

Other potentially effective complementary therapies include physical therapy and butterbur, an herbal remedy. Research into these and other complementary therapies for migraine is ongoing.3,4

Talk to your doctor about complementary therapies

Many people believe that complementary and alternative therapies do not have harmful side effects. But that is not always true. Some of these therapies can reduce the effectiveness of traditional medicine or cause other serious problems.4

Discuss all the approaches you are considering using with your doctor. Before beginning treatment for migraine, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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