Meditation—Not Just Medication—Can Help Alleviate Pain From Headaches. Here’s How

Photo: Getty Images/ svetikd
When you start to feel a headache coming on, you know you're in for a rough few hours. These troublemakers can put a halt to any plans you had for the day or even the week. Luckily, there is a new way to manage them and keep the pain at bay.

Before we dive right into pain management options, let's recap the different types of headaches. There are two categories of headaches—primary and secondary headache disorders. Secondary headaches are the ones where there is an underlying problem that's setting off the headache. For example, "someone has a brain aneurysm or brain tumor," Rebecca Wells, MD, MPH, Director of the Comprehensive Headache Program at Wake Forest Baptist tells Well+Good. On the other hand, primary headaches do not have underlying problems that need to be treated or targeted specifically. Examples of primary headache disorders include tension, migraine, and cluster.

Experts In This Article
  • Dawn Buse, PhD, Dawn Buse is a clinical professor at the department of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
  • Rebecca Wells, MD, MPH, Rebecca Wells is the director of the Comprehensive Headache Program at Wake Forest Baptist.

Among all of the headache types, tension headaches are by far the most common. "The pain is usually mild to moderate and may include feelings of tightness, tension, or pressure from the scalp all the way down to the neck and shoulders," says Dawn Buse, PhD, Clinical Professor at the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

Another common headache type is the migraine headache. When they strike, pain can be moderate to severe and can cause sensitivity to light, sound, and odors.

Cluster headaches are also not pleasant. While cluster headaches may be short in duration, they can cause severe pain. Cluster headaches gained the name because these headaches tend to occur in groups over weeks and months, according to Dr. Buse.

Unfortunately, headaches are pretty common, affecting one in six people. While prescription and over-the-counter medications and home treatments are all options to relieve headaches, there is one remedy that doctors recommend implementing: meditation. Research suggests that meditations may help with treating headaches. "We just finished publishing research where we showed that mindfulness meditation and headache education decreased migraine frequency and improved quality of life," says Dr. Wells.

According to Dr. Wells, meditations teach the body new ways to deal with stress, a commonly reported migraine and headache trigger. It's like therapy for your nervous system. Mindfulness also teaches a new way of reevaluating and perceiving pain, which makes meditation an ideal relief option.

While meditations have been shown to help alleviate headache symptoms, more research is needed to show which meditations are better suited for each type of headache. "We don't have the data to know those types of nuance differences," says Dr. Wells.

Although more data is needed, practicing mindfulness meditation can make the nervous system more resilient to headache triggers. To start, Dr. Buse recommends selecting a meditation that quiets the mind, calms the body, and includes paced breathing. To make things easier, find three mindful meditations below that may help whisk away your headache pain.

Meditations For Headache Management

1. Mindfulness Meditation For Migraine

Led by Dr. Rebecca Wells, this meditation will help bring your body down from a stressed to a calm state. This practice is on the longer end so use the bathroom then get comfy, drink water, and relax!

2. Mindfulness Meditation for Migraine Relief

This meditation is meant to relieve bodily tension and clear your thoughts so that you can go on about your day.

3. Five-Minute Meditation You Can Do Anywhere

Headaches can occur during inconvenient times, which is why this five-minute meditation will get the job done. You can participate in this meditation almost anywhere.

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cult-fave wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.

Loading More Posts...