Brief Meditation Training for Migraineurs Affects Emotional and Physiological Stress Reactivity

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



Document Type



Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


Migraines result in a significant amount of pain and reduce the quality of life for more than 13 percent of the U.S. population. 90 They are related to increases in emotional and physiological stress. Reducing stress may, therefore, lead to fewer headaches. Dr. Wachholtz and her colleagues designed a specific SM program involving meditation to test the hypothesis that decreased reactivity to stressors might reduce the number and intensity of migraines. The study cohort included 88 patients with migraine who had never practiced meditation. Of these patients, 80.7 percent were female, matching the epidemiological profile of migraine. Participants were randomized to the meditation or education control groups. Treatment included 4 weekly 90-minute group sessions with meditation training and meditation practice for 20 minutes per day. Education controls were given information on migraine demographics and treatment options. Anxiety levels were assessed by the State Anxiety Inventory and galvanic skin response; migraines were assessed in a headache journal. Outcomes were measured at baseline, post-trial period, and 4 weeks post-trial period. Meditation significantly reduced the number of headaches by 50 percent. This effect was maintained 4 weeks post trial. Meditation reduced emotional and physiological stress reactivity by 10 percent and 40 percent, respectively, and was sustained during the post-trial period. Patients in the education control group actually experienced a transitory increase in state anxiety at the immediate post-trial evaluation, possibly because of focusing on their disability during the intervention. These results indicate that meditation is a useful and cost-effective tool in the management of chronic migraine pain. Interesting avenues of future research include examining different kinds of meditation, whether there are gender differences, and how long meditation-mediated outcomes can be sustained.


Presented at the 8th Annual NIH Pain Consortium Symposium on Advances in Pain Research: Integrated Self-Management Strategies for Chronic Pain, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, http://painconsortium.nih.gov/PC_Symposia_Meetings/symposiums/PCS_8th_Annual_2013_Summary.pdf.