Real story of biofeedback for migraines: Meet Alice

Alice had had monthly migraines linked to her menstrual cycle every year for more than a decade. They were severe and lasted for a day or two. Her life stopped. She could not work. Pain medication helped some but still the pain was paralyzing. Alice had tried many forms of treatment, but still the migraines plagued her.

Alice was treated with biofeedback for migraines at the NeuroDevelopment Center. She had a total of eight 30 minute sessions of neurofeedback.  Her migraines disappeared.  And stayed gone. Recently we contacted Alice seven years after her treatment ended for follow up. We wanted to know if the treatment lasted. Here is what Alice wrote seven years after ending treatment with neurofeedback:

“I believe the last time I was treated in your office was 2005. I have been relatively migraine-free, with the exception of the 2-3 months following each pregnancy, in which sleep deprivation certainly played a role as well. I cannot recall the last time I had a migraine and have sung the praises of your services multiple times to fellow migraine sufferers, as well as parents and sufferers of OCD, ASD, and ADHD. I can’t thank you enough.”
A.S., Attleboro, MA


Heart rate variability biofeedback

Biofeedback is a way to gain awareness and control over some of your body reactions to stress.  Biofeedback instruments measure and show you changes in muscle activity, temperature, heart rate, sweat gland activity, brain electrical activity, and other physical changes that accompany changes in thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Hundreds of studies have shown that you can learn to influence or regulate these processes on your own when you get this immediate information.

Biofeedback has been found to be effective for the treatment of headaches and migraines. A recent analysis combined the results of 55 controlled studies of biofeedback for chronic migraines (average = 16.9 years). The data show that biofeedback results in significant and lasting improvement. The largest improvement was seen with heart rate variability biofeedback.

Your heart beat is a great “stress-o-meter”. When you are stressed or “revved up” or in a negative emotional state, and your nervous system arousal is high, your heart beats in lockstep. The amount of time between heart beats changes very little. When you are calm and stable, and nervous system arousal is lower, the beat to beat interval becomes more flexible.

biofeedback for migraines

Heart rate variability biofeedback training provides an easy and very concrete way to learn how to reshape these heart rate rhythms for increased calm and stability. A simple sensor on your ear or finger picks up your heart beat. The computer analyzes the interval between heart beats. During heart rate variability biofeedback sessions we will help you learn to relax your muscles and your mind, and learn to slow and regulate your breathing. Once you learn the techniques in sessions in our office, you can also use inexpensive software at home to build your ability to recognize when you are bothered and rapidly regain your calm. The image above shows a session in progress, with the more regular signal on the right half of the top section showing increased heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability biofeedback for migraines is a research supported treatment. When you reduce the impact of stress on your nervous system, you reduce your vulnerability to migraine attacks.


biofeedback for migraines neurofeedback w laptops
Neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy, is a research proven way to help you improve your brain function through intensive brain training exercises. Although the technology is quite sophisticated, the process is simple, painless, and non-invasive. It is just learning. You learn to alter your brain activity the same way you learn every other skill – through feedback and practice. What is new in neurofeedback is that you are guided by a form of feedback that was previously not available to you – instantaneous information about changes in your brain’s electrical activity. Every half second, your brain activity is compared to your targets for change. You get a signal and “reward” when you meet the goal. No signal or reward when you do not.

In 20 neurofeedback sessions, with feedback every half second, you get 72,000 chances to learn. That’s a lot of repetition and practice. Brain science has shown that repetitive exercise of brain networks reshapes the brain. Neurofeedback allows you to reshape your brain for greater stability in brain function. Greater stability leads to fewer migraine attacks.  Learn more.

Scientific evidence on biofeedback for migraines

Research is in the very early stages for studying the effectiveness of neurofeedback for migraines. Two open trial studies have been done. The results show that neurofeedback can help reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. More and better research is needed.

Multiple studies of have been done of the effectiveness of HRV biofeedback for migraines. Overall, this research has shown that HRV biofeedback is also helpful in reducing the severity and frequency of migraine headaches.

At the NeuroDevelopment Center, we recommend biofeedback for migraines when medical treatment fails or does not help enough.

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Do you have migraines that have not responded to medical treatment? Let's talk.

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