Learn about five alternative treatments for migraine and talk to your doctor about which ones may help you manage migraine.
Although there is currently no cure for migraine, there are many treatment options available to help you manage symptoms and prepare for attacks. Below we cover five different types of treatment you may want to consider if you live with migraine. These include both acute treatments, which target symptoms after an attack starts, and preventive treatments that work to reduce the number or severity of attacks in the future.
Please note that this article is meant to bring awareness about some, but certainly not all, of the different types of migraine treatments that are available. Always talk to your doctor before trying any of these treatment options. Migraine is unique to each individual, and it’s important to discuss how a specific treatment will work with your lifestyle, interact with other medications and fit into your overall migraine management plan. Your doctor will also be able to discuss the potential benefits and side effects of each treatment.
Magnesium is a nutraceutical—a mineral supplement often used to treat or prevent migraine symptoms. There is some evidence that suggests people with migraine have lower levels of magnesium in the brain compared to those without migraine. In a 2012 study conducted by the American Headache Society and the American Academy of Neurology, researchers determined that magnesium was probably effective and should be considered for patients requiring preventative therapy for migraine. Given the relative safety of magnesium supplements, they are often considered an effective method of treating migraine, particularly menstrual migraine and migraine with aura.
There are several forms of magnesium: oxide, sulfate, carbonate and citrate. Magnesium oxide is the one most frequently recommended for migraine prevention and is typically taken at a daily dose of 400 mg. You can find magnesium oxide at supermarkets and health food stores in the form of tablets or capsules.
In some cases, magnesium sulfate may be given intravenously as a treatment for migraine. Magnesium sulfate may have side effects like diarrhea and can cause low blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia. It may also have interactions with several medications used for cardiac issues, hypertension and antibiotics. For this reason, it is important to talk to your doctor first before taking any kind of magnesium.
#2 Acupressure and Acupuncture
Studies have shown mixed results on the benefits of acupressure and acupuncture in treating migraine. Both are holistic treatments that are sometimes used to reduce pain and stress and prevent migraine attacks. Acupressure involves massaging or pressing on specific pressure points throughout the body in order to relieve pain and tension. In acupuncture, an experienced practitioner places very thin needles into various locations throughout the body to stimulate pressure points.
Many pressure points are found in areas that people instinctively press on to relieve stress, headache pain and muscle tension. When used to target these areas, acupressure and acupuncture can help stimulate blood flow as well as alter endorphin levels (hormones released by the body to alleviate pain). If you are considering acupressure or acupuncture, speak with your doctor first about potential side effects.
#3 Green Light Therapy
There’s a connection between light and migraine: bright or flashing lights can be a migraine trigger, and light sensitivity can be a migraine symptom. Light sparks electrical signals in the retina in your eye and the cortex of your brain. Recent research suggests that green light therapy could help reduce the intensity of migraine attacks. This therapy involves exposure to a narrow band of green light from a special lamp.
Because green light generates the smallest electrical signals compared to other colors like red or blue, it doesn’t seem to trigger or increase light sensitivity. Some people find that green light therapy reduces migraine pain. This effect may be because green light increases pain-relieving chemicals in the brain or because green light is less painful than other colors. Research on green light therapy is limited but promising.
#4 Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise has multiple health benefits. A 2019 study in The Journal of Headache and Pain explored the effects of aerobic exercise on migraine frequency and severity. Researchers studied different types of exercises, including cross-training, walking, jogging and cycling. They found that aerobic exercise may help decrease the number of migraine days people experience per month on average. Additionally, there was some evidence to suggest that high intensity interval training may result in a significant decrease in the number of migraine days per month, but this requires additional research.
Always be sure to speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program to ensure it can be safely incorporated into your treatment plan.
#5 Biofeedback and Relaxation
Some studies suggest that biofeedback is an effective treatment option for reducing both the frequency and severity of migraine. Biofeedback is a noninvasive mind-body therapy that uses electrical sensors to monitor bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and muscle tension. These sensors collect information about unconscious or involuntary responses to stress and tension and give visual or sound cues to help you modify your body’s reactions in real time. For example, a tone may sound if a particular muscle group starts to tense up, while a different tone will sound as the muscles relax. Biofeedback is designed to increase body awareness and train people with migraine to use soothing behaviors to minimize the impact of stress before a migraine attack starts.
Typically, biofeedback and relaxation training are used together to help people develop deeper body awareness and techniques for bringing the mind and body back to a relaxed state. Relaxation training involves learning a systematic set of procedures to slow down the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stress responses. Stress is a common trigger for people with migraine. By learning to slow down the sympathetic nervous system, people with migraine may be able to reverse some of the physical responses that trigger attacks.
Talk to Your Doctor
Migraine often looks and feels different for each individual. That’s why your treatment plan needs to be customized to your unique needs. Your doctor may suggest combining more than one treatment option to best manage your symptoms. They may also recommend lifestyle changes to help you avoid migraine triggers and minimize the chance of attacks.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about any treatment options before trying them. Some treatments are not right for people with certain symptoms or contraindications (specific health conditions that could make a treatment risky or harmful). Your doctor can also make sure none of your treatments conflict with one another or produce severe side effects.
Stay positive and be persistent. With the full range of treatments now available for migraine, you and your doctor have more options than ever to create the right plan to manage your symptoms.
The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. To learn more about all of your migraine treatment options, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.