A new study suggests that adding yoga to the usual migraine treatments can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. Migraine headaches are common and they can reduce the quality of life for people who suffer from them. Medications to prevent migraine attacks only reduce migraines in about 50% of migraineurs.

Researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences enrolled 114 migraineurs into the new study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 50 and experienced four to 14 headaches per month.

Half of the migraineurs were randomly assigned to a group that received the usual medical and lifestyle treatments for migraine. These treatments included drugs such as the beta-blocker propranolol and the antidepressant amitriptyline, along with lifestyle counseling on sleep, diet and exercise. The other group got the same treatment along with yoga. The yoga treatment included one month of yoga instruction three days a week, followed by two months of self-yoga practice five days a week. Yoga therapy included breathing, relaxation and using yoga postures.

Over the three months of the study, the migraineurs in both groups were evaluated for the number of headaches they had, how severe the headaches were, by how much headaches impacted daily life and how much medication they needed to take. These are the key findings:

  • Headaches improved in both groups, but the yoga group had better improvement in frequency, intensity and quality of life, and they had less need of medication.
  • Frequency of headaches decreased by 48% in the yoga group compared with 12% in the usual-treatment alone group.
  • The number of migraine pills decreased by 47% in the yoga group compared with 12% in the usual-treatment group.

The researchers are not sure why yoga improves the usual migraine treatments. Yoga may increase blood levels of nitrous oxide, a gas that may reduce migraine attacks. Yoga may also relax muscles in the neck and shoulders. Tense muscles may be a migraine trigger.

The researchers conclude that adding yoga to the usual migraine treatment is both safe and inexpensive. It is estimated that migraine accounts for about $15 billion in lost productivity and medication costs in the US. Adding yoga to migraine treatment could save a lot of money and go a long way to improving the quality of life for migraineurs.

Source: Study titled “Effect of yoga as add-on therapy in migraine (CONTAIN), a randomized clinical trial,” by researchers at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, published in Neurology.