My Story: Biofeedback Therapy For Migraine

By Cindy Perlin

Cindy Perlin

Cindy Perlin

The following is an excerpt from Ms. Perlin’s recent book: The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatment: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free.

Susan Antelis, a licensed mental health counselor and board-certified biofeedback practitioner on Long Island, experienced dramatic healing results from biofeedback that inspired her career direction.  Biofeedback uses sensitive electronic instruments to measure a person’s bodily processes and then feeds back that information to the person so that control of the physiology can be learned. Several types of biofeedback—including muscle tension (EMG), temperature (blood flow) and brain wave (neurofeedback)—have been shown to be helpful for reducing migraines. Biofeedback is often paired with coaching in relaxation techniques.

Susan had started having hormonally triggered classic migraines with aura monthly when she was 13. Migraine headaches had occurred in her family for generations, and Susan’s would last for days at a time. At that time, in 1966, medication was not used in children. Susan’s headaches worsened to the point that she was experiencing them three days a week. Her father was a doctor, and his partner told Susan that she’d have the headaches for the rest of her life.

The headaches were so bad that Susan didn’t know if she’d be able to finish high school or go to college. At age 19, Susan consulted another doctor, who put her on medication for headaches. The medication left her wired and hung over for three days after a headache. By age 20, Susan was very depressed and almost suicidal. That’s when she decided to find a therapist.

Psychologist Glenda Axel was up on new ways and referred Susan to Gretchen Randolph for biofeedback. Susan was treated weekly with hand temperature biofeedback and EMG (muscle) biofeedback. Though she found it frustrating at first, after 10 months, Susan was almost headache free. She continued to carry her medication around with her for three years, but she never used it again. In 1980, Susan took her first professional biofeedback training course and bought her own equipment. Her migraines stopped completely in 1981. Susan started training her own two daughters in biofeedback when they were three years old. When they were 13, they started having migraines but were able to stop them with biofeedback.

A review of migraine treatments published by the American Academy of Neurology in 2000 concluded that temperature and muscle biofeedback with relaxation training were effective and recommended biofeedback as a treatment option.

In recent years, neurofeedback has been used to treat migraines, often based on the results of a Quantitative EEG. Quantitative EEG, or QEEG, is a brain mapping technique that identifies abnormalities in brain regions and brain connections, which can then be corrected with neurofeedback. In 2011, a migraine headache study compared QEEG-guided neurofeedback to pharmaceutical treatment. Fifty-four percent of patients in the neurofeedback group experienced a complete remission of migraine headaches. An additional 39% experienced a decrease in migraine frequency of greater than 50%. In contrast, of patients in the study who elected to continue on drug therapy, 68% experienced no change in headache frequency, and only 8% achieved a reduction of greater than 50%.