An array of alternative treatments can be tried in combination with medication or on their own. Improvement in symptoms may vary from person to person, with usually little or no downside to trying these treatments.
Some treatments to ease an active migraine can be done at home, such as:
- Applying cold or hot packs to the head
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Resting in a dark room away from noise and activity
Taking these steps as soon as possible after the migraine headache starts is advised.
Since stress can be a trigger for migraines, mind-body techniques that focus on stress relief and relaxation can help manage migraine pain and disruption.
Techniques may include meditation, deep-breathing exercises, biofeedback, and other relaxation techniques. Research has pointed to the benefits of these techniques in reducing the duration of migraine headaches and the level of disability.1
Feverfew is a supplement that some people take to prevent migraines. Not a lot is known about this supplement, but limited research suggests it may be effective.
Other common names for feverfew include bachelor’s buttons and featherfew. It is sold in the form of teas, capsules, pills, and liquid extracts.
Feverfew is considered safe in most people, though it may cause bloating, digestive problems, or skin irritation in some people. It should not be taken by pregnant women. Some people who take feverfew regularly and then stop report increased anxiety, sleep problems, and headaches.
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Once confined to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is now part of mainstream treatment for migraines and a range of other painful conditions. Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles placed at specific locations on the body.
Research has found acupuncture's can lead to a significant decline in the frequency and duration of migraines.2
Mild Electrical Stimulation
Currently, at least two medical devices using electrical stimulation (also called electrotherapy) have been approved by the FDA for migraine treatment. Available only by prescription, both send mild pulses to a targeted area.
- External Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation. The Cefaly device is designed to reduce the number and duration of migraines by targeting the trigeminal nerve with 20-minute treatment sessions. It is worn on the forehead.
- Transcranial magnetic simulation. The sTMS (transcranial magnetic simulator) mini is approved for treating migraines with aura—an array of visual and sensory symptoms that can accompany a migraine. It is placed on back of head and delivers a brief, preset pulse.
Other electrotherapy devices are widely available without a prescription. Health insurance coverage for electrotherapy varies.
As with many pain control options, what works for one person may not work for another. Some trial and error may be needed to find the best pain relief.
Manual manipulation, which is commonly provided by chiropractors and other health practitioners, may also help treat migraine headaches.
Marijuana and Cannabidiol (CBD) Treatments
Research into medical uses for marijuana has been limited in the past because of federal regulations. In recent years, interest in marijuana as a treatment has increased as state regulations on the use of marijuana have eased:
- Marijuana studied for migraines. Research in Colorado, where marijuana use does not violate state law, suggest that some people experience less-frequent migraines after using marijuana.4
- Cannabidiol's benefit for migraines is unclear. Cannabidiol (CBD) is derived from the cannabis plant without producing the euphoria typical of marijuana. Cannabidiol has shown promise in treating epilepsy in children and there are anecdotal reports of its helpfulness in treating migraines. Research is lacking, however.
Discussing dosages with a medical professional is advised. While research is not extensive, some studies have provided recommended dosing in certain situations.
Risks and potential side effects
Health concerns with marijuana include the risk of addiction, the impact on the brain, and potential harm from inhaling the smoke. The most serious side effects for marijuana are sudden high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Migraine headaches vary widely from one person to another, and may change over time. Finding the most effective treatment for the multiple symptoms in this common condition may require persistence. A combination of medication and lifestyle changes is often helpful.