A role for integrative (complementary) therapies in preventing the progression of episodic to chronic migraine, and remittance 
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 1:12PM
Sharron E. Murray

"Once you choose hope, anything's possible." -Christopher Reeve

Migraine is a complex neurological disease thought to affect our nervous systems. Although the exact cause is not known, evidence suggests we have an inherited disruption in brain function that makes our brain cells more excitable than others.

Because we have sensitive nervous systems, we are vulnerable to changes in our internal and external environments. These changes, or stimuli known as triggers, initiate the chain of events that set off our migraine attacks. It is helpful for us to know that triggers are numerous, cumulative, unique to the individual and believed to include:

When I was diagnosed with chronic migraine and medication overuse headaches, (2001), the first and most important thing I did to reduce the frequency and severity of my migraine attacks was to identify my responsible triggers, including stressors. The next, and the most difficult thing, because I had to accept my disease and take responsibility for my health, was to manage my identified triggers and my body's response to stress (level of stress).

To manage my triggers, I changed my diet and eating habits; adopted regular sleeping patterns; avoided or took measures to minimize flickering lights, loud noises and strong smells; made sure I drank enough water to maintain hydration, and with the help of a great physical therapist, corrected my posture.

Stress management was another matter. At the time I began my path to wellness, I was familiar with biofeedback and breathing techniques. However, I did not incorporate these strategies into my daily life until I began my journey into Eastern medicine.

"The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence." -Norman Vincent Peale

There, within the philosophy of Eastern medicine, I learned about Chi, the energy force that flows through our organs and muscles and permeates every tissue and cell in our body. As well, I discovered the wonders of Yin and Yang opposite, although complementary, energies essential to all facets of life. For example, take our human body. If we get to hot, we sweat and cool down.

I equated the flow of energy to my nervous system and Yin and Yang became the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of my autonomic nervous system. Yang (fire) was fast like the sympathetic branch, whereas  Yin (cools fire) was slow like the parasympathetic branch. Breathing took on a whole new meaning as I embraced the word "calm" on exhalation of each breath with meditation, and as I focused on controlling my heart rate and respirations with the biofeedback exercises I revisited.

As I was guided through self-awareness, I learned how to understand and express my emotions to promote healing.  For example, instead of repressing anger, I have given myself permission to tell someone, including my husband, that I am angry, irritable, or frustrated. If I am afraid or worried, I confront the cause rather than retreat inside and dwell on my inhibitions. When I am anxious, wired, or riding high on joy and enthusiasm, I use meditation to calm me down. Because I am not waking up in the middle of the night like I used to with a thousand things on my mind to torment me, I sleep better. Because I am well rested, I eat more regular and nourishing meals. Thus, I have increased my physical energy and am able to commit to health-enhancing practices like a regular exercise program.

 "The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well." -Hippocrates

A while ago, a fellow person with migraine asked me what it was like to detox off Imitrex. I was honest in my reply. The first few weeks were tough. Worst migraines ever! At times I felt like throwing in the towel. But, something, somewhere deep inside of me, wouldn't let me. If there was a way out of this daily madness, I was going to take it.

Spurred on by the encouragement of my husband and my doctors, I adopted more practices I learned from Eastern medicine and, along with others from my familiar Western medicine, I developed and employed my wellness plan. Because, integrative (complementary, non-pharmacological) therapies take longer to work than pharmacological, change in my status did not occur overnight. Thus, I concentrated on the good days when I was free of pain and the drugged sensation and hangover effect that medication gave me wasn't around.

As time passed, my good days started to outnumber my bad days and my dependence on medication became less and less. Today, to keep my migraine attacks at bay ( I am still vulnerable and am diligent in my determination not to return to the days of chronic migraine and medication overuse headaches), I abide by the following plan: 

 "What you can become depends upon what you can overcome." -A.D. Williams.

Today, I live a healthy and happy life with migraine disease. As I reflect on my journey, I regret that I didn't know more about triggers, the importance of stress management techniques, and the pitfalls of medication overuse before my migraines progressed from episodic to chronic.  I cannot change the past, however, I can share everything I know, and learn, to help others treat and prevent chronic migraine. 

Three scientifically proven techniques that have been shown to be as effective as medication for migraine treatment are: biofeedback (relax mind and body), cognitive behavioral therapy (helps patients understand that their thoughts and feelings influence their moods, behaviors, and ultimately their health), and relaxation therapies like meditation (ease stress). . 

Although more research is necessary to add to the body of scientifically-based evidence on the effectiveness of techniques such as acupuncture, yoga, exercise and physical therapy, these techniques and strategies have shown positive results in a number of studies. The important thing is for you to choose something that helps you keep a quiet mind and calm body (balance your energies and nervous system).  

Also, you need to know that while one therapy may work for me, it might not work for you as we are unique in our symptoms and our response to treatment. In addition, comorbid diseases or disorders can make the course of our disease more complicated and the choice and benefits of some of these therapies more limited.

Lastly, these therapies have their greatest benefits over time and when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, which includes avoiding identified triggers. And, remember to always check with your doctor before initiating any new therapies.


Murray, S. M.S., R.N. Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence On Medication, Take Back Your Life. San Francisco:Conari Press, 2013. 

Sharron Murray MS, RN is an author and coauthor CaMEO Study, "Life With Migraine". Currently, Sharron is active in the migraine community as a writer, advocate, American Migraine Foundation Partner, moderator for the American Migraine Foundation "Move Against Migraine" Facebook Group, and member of the National Headache Foundation Patient Leadership Council. 

Follow Sharron on twitter @murraysharron, her Facebook page: Sharron Murray MS, RN and her website www.sharronmurray

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any specific concerns about your health or nutrition, please consult a qualified health care professional.

Copyright 2013, Sharron E. Murray. 

Updated February, 2019



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