Biofeedback for Headaches

Tension headaches are usually caused by muscles in the neck, shoulders, jaws and other facial structures being kept too tense for too long. These muscles may become too tense because some people can not recognize the actual level of tension in painful muscles, because of postural problems while working, over-reactions by the muscles to stress, poor habits, etc.

Psychophysiological assessments can identify which muscles are not functioning correctly and what circumstances lead to the incorrect patterns of tension. Biofeedback of muscle tension is used to train people to recognize actual levels of tension and to correct these levels in conjunction with relaxation training. Temperature biofeedback for migraine headaches work through a similar chain of logic.

Brief summary of evidence supporting the efficacy of biofeedback for headaches. There are simply too many studies to note even a fraction of them. Yucha and Gilbert (2004) and Sherman (2004) reviewed the studies supporting efficacy of this therapy and found a plethora of fine work ranging from double blind controlled studies to clinical studies. Comparative studies show that biofeedback is as good or better than any medication. Long term follow-up studies show that the treatments last for most people as long as they continue to practice the techniques learned during therapy. People who had biofeedback therapy were more likely to continue to use it than people taking any particular medication were likely to continue taking that medication. Pain from jaw problems is treated effectively if the pain is due to problems in the muscles but not if the problem is in the jaw joint itself.

Studies do not support the efficacy of biofeedback for all kinds of headaches. The evidence supporting its use with migraines brought on by trauma, cluster headaches, and menstrual headaches is much weaker. There is no evidence supporting its effectiveness for trigeminal neuralgia, jaw joint problems, etc.

Efficacy of biofeedback for migraine: A meta-analysis by Yvonne Nestoriuc, Alexandra Martin of Philipps-University of Marburg, Section for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Gutenbergstr. 18,35032 Marburg, Germany; published in Pain 128: 111 – 127, 2007.

The authors reviewed the publications on the use of temperature, muscle tension, and pulse biofeedback for migraine. By combining data from similar studies, they were able to confirm that biofeedback is highly efficacious in the treatment of migraine relative to various types of controls.



Carolyn Yucha and Christopher Gilbert’s 2004 book “Evidence Based Practice in Biofeedback & Neurofeedback” AAPB, Wheat Ridge, CO.

Sherman R: Pain Assessment and Intervention from a Psychophysiological Perspective. Association for Applied Psychophysiology, Wheat Ridge Colorado, 2004.

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