Subjects received weeks of training at Johns Hopkins University in enhanced mindfulness-based stress reduction or a tailored course on stress management for headaches. Then, they recorded their headaches in a diary and received functional MRI testing at UMSOD at baseline and at 10 and 20 weeks.
Those who practiced enhanced mindfulness had fewer headache days and reduced headache-related disability than those who received training in stress management. The MRI findings suggested that the enhanced mindfulness group also had improvements in attention-related brain network function.
The researchers compared their results to commonly used first-line treatments for migraines such as valproic acid.
“This is really good news for patients, especially because mindfulness is a non-pharmaceutical option that has no side effects,” said David A. Seminowicz, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences at UMSOD and coauthor of the study.
“Dr. Seminowicz’s novel research on alternative methods to pharmacological interventions has the potential to improve the lives of those afflicted with migraines and others who suffer from chronic pain,” said Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, dean and professor at UMSOD.
Shana Burrowes, PhD, a postdoc at Boston University, worked as a graduate research assistant in Seminowicz’s lab while earning her PhD and made the study the topic of her dissertation. A migraine sufferer herself, she said the study “gives us another tool in our arsenal to fight migraines.”
After living with migraines for so long, she said, “you learn to just go through and ignore the pain. But mindful breathing makes you acknowledge the pain in the moment and learn a better way to cope.”
Having studied chronic pain for the better part of two decades, Seminowicz was always interested in non-pharmacological interventions and was drawn to mindfulness due to its accessibility.
“It can be learned by anyone,” he said, which makes it accessible and useful when pharmaceuticals are not.
The study was funded by a $3.6 million National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health grant, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Seminowicz is now working on another NIH-funded mindfulness study focused on rheumatoid arthritis to determine which aspects of mindfulness are most effective.