Researchers in India trained volunteers suffering from frequent migraines on how to practice yoga. Their research suggests that adding yoga to your routine in conjunction with medication can relieve migraines more than just using medication alone.
“Migraine is one of the most common headache disorders, but only about half the people taking medication for it get real relief,” said study author Rohit Bhatia of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “The good news is that practicing something as simple and accessible as yoga may help much more than medications alone. And all you need is a mat.”
For their study, Bhatia and colleagues recruited 114 individuals aged 17 to 50 who experienced 4-14 headaches on a monthly basis. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: yoga plus medication or medication-only.
Those in the yoga group received a one-hour yoga practice supervised by a certified instructor three days a week for one month. The training included breathing and relaxation exercises, as well as postures.
After their training, the participants were instructed to perform yoga sessions on their own at home for five days a week over the next two months.
In addition to medication, participants in both groups were counseled on lifestyle changes that may reduce the incidence of migraines, such as getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, and exercising.
Participants in both groups showed improvements in managing their migraine frequency and intensity. However, the participants in the yoga group saw significantly better outcomes.
At the start of the study, participants in the yoga group averaged 9.1 headaches per month. After practicing yoga for about three months and taking prescription medication, they experienced only 4.7 headaches per month, marking a 48% reduction in migraine frequency.
Those who were solely on medication experienced 7.7 headaches per month on average at the start of the study. By the time the study was concluded, this group reported an average of 6.8 headaches per month, equivalent to a 12% drop in migraine frequency.
The participants who practiced yoga also needed fewer pills to manage their migraines. By the end of the three months, the yoga group used 47% fewer prescription pills, whereas the medication-only group decreased its usage by only 12%.
As a caveat, the study’s main limitation was the fact that migraine frequency and medication use was reported by the participants themselves. This is merely an observational study as the authors have not attempted to infer a causal relationship between yoga exercises and the incidence of migraines.
The authors note in their study, which was published in the journal Neurology, that more research is required to see whether the effects of practicing yoga can last longer.
“Our results show that yoga can reduce not just the pain, but also the treatment cost of migraines,” said Bhatia. “That can be a real game-changer, especially for people who struggle to afford their medication. Medications are usually prescribed first, and some can be expensive.”