Migraines are extremely painful headaches that can present sensitivity to light and sound. Some migraine sufferers can have migraines “with aura” which means the headaches can be accompanied with jagged lines in the vision or numbness in the mouth and body. It’s difficult to get through anything when you have a migraine, and it’s difficult to stop them from coming once they are on their way.
Migraines are caused by many different things, but they are usually triggered by something (such as emotional stress, dehydration, going long periods of time without food, caffeine, chocolate, or even types of cheese). Over time, migraine sufferers identify what their triggers are and work hard to avoid them. Prescription medications are available to help, but some of them have a hefty list of side effects that people try to avoid as well. A type of behavioral therapy may be prescribed alongside medications which teaches people to use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, biofeedback, or relaxation to help them cope with the physical pain and psychological distress that accompany migraines. However, few people seek out and use the therapy options available, even though they can reduce the frequency of headaches in 30-60% of people who try it.
It’s easier than ever to try the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques with a new app called RELAXaHEAD. RELAXaHEAD guides you through relaxation techniques using progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and is currently under development. It can be used on a smartphone, and its accessibility makes it an important part of learning to deal with migraines. The team behind RELAXaHEAD emphasize that this type of therapy is best when it accompanies prescription medication treatment. Many people choose, for various reasons, to use medication alone and are missing out on key techniques which make a difference to people with migraines.
RELAXaHEAD was studied in a clinical trial through NYU Langone Health with 51 patients diagnosed with migraine. The test subjects were followed for 90 days and were asked to keep a journal of their migraine frequency and severity while they used the app on their smartphones. While this study doesn’t give clear answers about how much using PMR at home helped the test subjects, it does show that migraine patients are interested in behavioral therapy when it’s convenient.
Minen, Mia T., et al. “Smartphone-Based Migraine Behavioral Therapy: a Single-Arm Study with Assessment of Mental Health Predictors.” Npj Digital Medicine, vol. 2, no. 46, 4 June 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41746-019-0116-y.