Plan Design: Non-Drug Therapies

Migraine Management Toolkit

Plan Design & Policies: Non-Drug Therapies

Although medication is the primary way migraine is treated today, there are many non-drug alternative therapies available that can help ease headache pain. For some people, combining behavioral or alternative therapies with drug therapy can produce better results than using drug treatment alone. Others, may exclusively need non-drug options because they:

  • Do not get relief from prescribed medications
  • Experience serious side effects from medications
  • Are pregnant or nursing
  • Have other conditions where drugs are contraindicated
  • Prefer non-drug treatments

Offering alternative or complementary treatments through the medical benefit can be a positive way to support those suffering with migraines. These therapies typically cost less than medications used to treat migraines and positively impact the individual’s overall health and well-being. They can also be helpful when used in conjunction with medications.

Behavioral treatments for migraines such as cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management, relaxation techniques and biofeedback may reduce migraine symptoms by 50% or more. There is also some evidence that acupuncture and exercise (including strengthening, stretching, resistance and postural training) can help lower intensity of pain during headaches and decrease frequency of migraines. Unfortunately, many migraineurs skip these therapies due to lack of coverage, cost concerns and time constraints.

Common non-drug therapies

Research on the effectiveness of non-drug alternative migraine treatment is ongoing and showing promise in multiple areas. Here are some of the more common alternative therapies currently in use:

  • Acupuncture: Clinical trials have found these treatments may be helpful in reducing migraine frequency and severity
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Psychotherapy that teaches a migraineur to change their patterns of thinking and understand how their thoughts affect how pain is perceived
  • Biofeedback: A widely accepted non-drug therapy for migraine prevention and control that uses a special device to monitor and control stress-related physical responses (e.g. muscle tension)
  • Relaxation training: Techniques used most commonly to prevent headaches, however can also help manage symptoms; increases awareness and control of physical symptoms
  • Massage therapy: Can ease stress, a common migraine trigger, and may reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines