Complementary and Integrative Medicine in the Management of Headache

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SOURCE:   BMJ. 2017 (May 16); 357: j1805

Denise Millstine, Christina Y Chen, Brent Bauer

Integrative Medicine Section,
Department of General Internal Medicine;
Women’s Health Internal Medicine,
Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Headaches, including primary headaches such as migraine and tension-type headache, are a common clinical problem. Complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), formerly known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), uses evidence informed modalities to assist in the health and healing of patients. CIM commonly includes the use of nutrition, movement practices, manual therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, and mind-body strategies. This review summarizes the literature on the use of CIM for primary headache and is based on five meta-analyses, seven systematic reviews, and 34 randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

The overall quality of the evidence for CIM in headache management is generally low and occasionally moderate. Available evidence suggests that traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, massage, yoga, biofeedback, and meditation have a positive effect on migraine and tension headaches. Spinal manipulation, chiropractic care, some supplements and botanicals, diet alteration, and hydrotherapy may also be beneficial in migraine headache. CIM has not been studied or it is not effective for cluster headache. Further research is needed to determine the most effective role for CIM in patients with headache.

From the FULL TEXT Article:


Headache is one of the most common clinical problems seen by healthcare providers. [1] Primary headache, as defined by the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD), comprises headaches caused by independent pathophysiology, not by secondary causes, and includes tension-type headache, migraine, and cluster headaches. [2]

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Conventional treatments, particularly drugs, are often effective in resolving acute headaches and reducing the frequency of chronic or recurrent headaches. However, many patients turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for greater improvement. CAM has evolved over time but it generally includes treatments that are not typically considered part of conventional medicine. Examples include massage therapy, acupuncture, mind-body medicine, and the use of botanicals and supplements. The distinction between CAM and conventional medicine, however, is not always clear, as is the case with several over the counter supplements now commonly recommended by conventionally trained providers, such as magnesium supplements in migraine.

However, partly as a result of research support by organizations such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a growing body of literature has shown that many CAM therapies are effective when used in conjunction with conventional care. [3] This has led to the use of the more appropriate term, complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), reflecting the fact that evidence based CAM therapies are increasingly being incorporated into conventional care. The Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health notes that integrative medicine “reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic and lifestyle approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.” [4]

Thus we will use the term complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) in this review except when references specify CAM.

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