Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Complementary and alternative therapies is a blanket term that encompasses many different practices and treatments that are non-traditional or not part of conventional Western medicine. Many people with migraine find it helpful to use complementary or alternative therapies for migraine in their care to ease or lessen their migraine symptoms.

In the 2018 Migraine In America survey, respondents were asked “What else, if anything, do you use on a regular basis to treat migraine and/or its symptoms?” Out of the 4,356 respondents, 8 out of 10 reported using alternative therapies, including taking vitamins and supplements, partaking in various forms of exercise, avoiding triggers, practicing stress relief tactics, and other alternatives such as daith piercing and CBD oil.

Talking to your doctor

When considering adding complementary and alternative therapies for migraine to your treatment regimen, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these approaches have not been studied for the treatment of migraine. Although many people believe that complementary and alternative therapies are safe and do not have harmful side effects, that is not always true. It’s critical to share with your doctors all the approaches you are considering using, as some complementary and alternative can reduce the effectiveness of traditional medicine or may cause other serious problems.

The difference between complementary and alternative therapies

While the terms “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually differ in how they are applied. Complementary medicine is the use of a non-mainstream approach in combination with traditional treatment. Alternative medicine is using non-mainstream approaches instead of traditional treatment. A newer term that is being used now is integrative medicine, which involves combining complementary and more conventional approaches together.1

Types of complementary and alternative therapies for migraine

Complementary and alternative medicine includes:

  • Natural remedies, such as herbal treatments, vitamins, minerals, and other supplements
  • Mind-body medicine, such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, qi gong, healing touch, and hypnotherapy

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There are also different schools of healing that are considered different forms of complementary and alternative medicine, including:

  • Traditional healing
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Naturopathy

Many peole with migraine seek different forms of migraine treatment because this debilitating condition is difficult to relieve. In some cases prescription medications and over-the-counter treatments have more unwanted side effects than natural remedies for migraine. However, natural products that will help with migraine still may cause side effects and in certain cases should be avoided by people with certain medical conditions. All patients should check with their health care provider before starting any treatment or type of therapy.

Practitioners in the complementary and alternative medicine field

Some complementary and alternative approaches are provided by people with formal training or certifications, but others may be offered by people with informal or no training. Depending on the type of complementary and alternative treatment, there are different types of practitioners who specialize in delivering the services, including:

  • Chiropractors
  • Acupuncturists
  • Aromatherapists
  • Massage therapists
  • Yoga instructors
  • Hypnotherapists
  • Kinesiologists
  • Naturopaths
  • Biofeedback therapists
  • Folk medicine practitioners

As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: May 2018
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