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Research Suggests Adding Yoga to Prescribed Migraine Treatments May Increase Effectiveness

When it comes to migraine headaches, heavy workloads, emotional stress and rotating night shifts can create a perfect storm of triggers for healthcare professionals.

Regarding migraine headaches, heavy workloads, emotional stress, and rotating night shifts can create a perfect storm of triggers for healthcare professionals. Hence, it may be unsurprising that providers – particularly nurses – may have almost double the risk for developing migraines than the general population, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain.

Migraine headaches have been linked to career and financial instability and relationship upheavals. Based on a review by the Cochrane Collaboration and a recent statement from the American Headache Society, treatments can be imperfect and ineffective if associated with migraine pathophysiology and circumstantial confounders, such as age, gender, or comorbidities.

The results of a randomized, controlled study published last week by the American Academy of Neurology support another accessible solution, specifically for episodic migraines: yoga.

An Hour a Day

Previous studies suggest that yoga positively affects certain migraine measures, such as headache frequency or pain, but have not explored its role as a therapy alongside medication. In the current trial, 160 adult patients with episodic migraine were randomized to medical therapy alone (n=80) or add-on yoga (n=80). In the yoga group, a supervised, 60-minute yoga regimen was carried out three days each week for one month, followed by five days of a home regimen for two months. The method incorporated a pictorial yoga booklet and the ability to contact instructors for help.

The findings showed:

  • At three months, patients who added yoga to their medical regimen experienced significant reductions in headache frequency, intensity, and mean Headache Impact Test (HIT).
  • While improvements were seen in both groups, 12% (n=7) of patients that practiced yoga and took medication became headache-free at the end of three months versus none in the medical intervention alone group.

Wellness on the Go

Five reputed yoga centers designed and verified the study participants’ yoga routines. It consisted of breathing, meditation, and various yoga poses (asanas). Neuroimaging studies demonstrated that meditations and yoga asanas change various brain regions, such as the frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and insula. And migraines have been shown to alter connectivity within some of the same regions, reinforcing potential mechanisms for why adjunctive yoga practice might benefit migraine sufferers. Mindfulness and yoga are also linked to stress reduction and overall wellness improvement. 

Additional studies are needed to identify how yoga might boost medications to prevent episodic (or chronic) migraines. Additionally, for busy HCPs, a one-hour daily yoga practice may be impractical. Fortunately, incorporating just five minutes a day may help reduce on-the-job stress, induce a relaxation response, and provide an extra oomph to keep migraines at bay.

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