Preventing and Treating Migraines Without Medications
A variety of noninvasive and non-pharmaceutical strategies can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine pain.
Eyestrain is a well-known trigger for migraines. If you haven't visited an optometrist or ophthalmologist recently, make an appointment to have your eyes checked and your prescription updated for your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
A relatively common cause of migraine headaches is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. The temporomandibular joint is where the lower jaw joins the rest of the skull. If you place a finger just in front of your ear and open and close your mouth, you can feel the end of the mandible (jaw) moving under the skin.
Misalignment in this joint is very common and can lead to migraines. In addition to headaches, you might experience popping or stiffness as you open and shut your mouth, especially while you're eating. Misalignment can result from dental work that creates imbalance in your bite, grinding your teeth in your sleep (known as bruxism), and stress that leads to clenching the muscles of the jaw.
TMJ dysfunction can be treated in a variety of ways: stretching and massage, applying heat or cold, anti-inflammatory medications, and stress management techniques. A dental evaluation for TMJ function is very important, since a dentist can prescribe a bite plate to realign your jaw or a night guard to prevent bruxism.
Another dental device is fitted just over the front teeth, unlike bite plates and night guards. Called the nociceptive trigeminal inhibitor (NTI), it causes the front teeth (incisors) to be in constant contact, which prevents any other teeth from touching.
The theory behind the NTI is that people with migraines have hyperactive trigeminal nerves. These nerves, one on either side of the head, supply the jaw muscles, and, in people with migraines, their hyperactivity results in jaw clenching, especially at night. The resulting muscle tension and pain can then trigger migraines. The NTI prevents contact between teeth the back of the jaw, which completely prevents clenching or bruxism. You can try this for yourself by touching your front teeth together; it's physically impossible to clench your jaw at the same time. The NTI is FDA-approved for the prevention of migraines.
This strategy makes use of the mind-body connection, teaching you to take conscious control of bodily functions that have seemed to be beyond your influence. Biofeedback is an established therapy for many medical conditions, and training is commonly available through hospitals, medical centers, and clinics.
In biofeedback training sessions for migraine headaches, a technician attaches a sensor to your skin that measures one or more of several conditions: muscle activity, skin temperature, and the continual pressure within blood vessels. These measurements are fed back to you as information in the form of a beep or a flashing light.
During training sessions, you'll learn how these measures change under different conditions. For instance, when you're startled (a form of stress), your blood vessels contract, skin temperature drops, and muscles tense. The next step is to learn specific techniques to counteract the tension, for instance, so that you gain conscious control over some of the triggers that can cause migraines.
Biofeedback sensors can be purchased online. However, working with a trainer greatly increases the effectiveness of biofeedback. This technique has been proven effective in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation
TMS is a technique that uses a specialized electromagnet placed on the scalp that emits short magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain. A small study by Ohio State University researchers in 2006 seemed to show that TMS reduced the symptoms of migraine. However, other researchers have not duplicated the results of this study. Until they do, TMS should be considered to be of questionable value in treating migraines.