A new study found yoga is a helpful treatment for reducing frequency and severity of migraine attacks
Yoga is a popular non-medical treatment for migraine. Commonly called complementary and integrative treatments, non-medical treatments are a very important part of a patient’s migraine management plan.
Dr. Deena Kuruvilla, MD, a headache specialist and medical director at the Westport Headache Institute, says a huge number of patients look for non-medical migraine treatment options because they tried medications that weren’t effective or came with side effects.
One downfall of integrative treatments for migraine is that they don’t have the same amount of evidence that medications have. That’s because the funding for integrative medicine research is not as plentiful as medication based research.
However, a new study shows more evidence that yoga can be part of an effective migraine management plan. We spoke to Dr. Kuruvilla about the study and what it means for patients looking to add yoga to their migraine treatment plans.
What did the study find?
The study, conducted in India, included patients who had migraine attacks four to 14 headache days a month. The study split the patients into two groups: those who had medical management only and those who received medical management and a yoga protocol. “Medical management” in the study’s context means helping people find the most effective acute and preventive medications.
During the first month of the study, patients in the yoga group learned to do a 60-minute yoga routine three days a week. In months two and three, patients did the same yoga routine at home five days a week and had the ability to get help to make sure they were doing it correctly.
The study found a 50% reduction in headache frequency and almost a 50% drop in rescue medication use in the yoga group.
What should patients take away from this study?
Dr. Kuruvilla says it’s a promising look into the benefit of adding yoga to a migraine management plan. “We know that adding yoga on to medications could be helpful to giving those medications a boost,” she says.
There were some potential shortcomings of the study. One issue with the study is that it included a small number of patients. Initially, each group had 80 patients, but 23 people from each group dropped out for various reasons.
However, she thinks this study adds to an ever-increasing amount of support for using yoga to treat migraine. Her hope is that more and more studies about integrative medicine receive the funding necessary to learn the full effectiveness of these methods.
“I think the yoga study is important, and getting more evidence for integrative medicine practices is so important because patients often ask for these approaches,” Dr. Kuruvilla says.
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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.