Yoga practice reduced painful symptoms associated with tension-type headaches
Research Study At A Glance
The Research Question Asked
How does yoga affect tension-type headaches and migraine headaches? Can yoga reduce headaches?
Type of Study
Systematic review and meta-analysis
Researchers included peer-reviewed studies in this larger review and meta-analysis if they were published before May of 2019 and they conducted randomized control trials evaluating the effects of yoga on tension-type headaches and migraines. Specifically, they evaluated yoga’s effects on headache frequency, duration, and pain intensity.
Tension Headaches: Yoga treatments reduced frequency, duration, and pain intensity.
Migraine Headaches: Yoga did not significantly reduce symptoms or frequency.
Yoga may be an effective treatment for reducing frequency and symptoms of tension-type headaches, but was not an effective treatment for migraine headaches.
Nearly half of the global population experiences some kind of headache, either chronically or periodically, which negatively impacts their quality of life. Headaches can range from being a nuisance to being completely debilitating and preventing us from being able to work or manage basic responsibilities. While there are many causes of headaches, most medical interventions focus on dealing with symptoms. Unfortunately, pharmacological treatments for headaches also come with negative side effects ranging from depression and weight-gain to liver and gastrointestinal issues to potential addiction to prescription medications.
Yoga has shown potential as a non-pharmacological treatment for headaches. While it has the benefit of having demonstrated no negative side effects, the previous studies examining the potential of yoga to alleviate headache symptoms were done on small samples. The systematic review and meta-analysis is an opportunity for researchers to combine smaller studies together to see if clearer trends are visible with respect to the effects of yoga on headaches.
How does yoga affect tension-type headaches and migraine headaches?
The researchers included peer-reviewed studies in this review and meta-analysis when they met certain criteria. They included studies in the review which conducted randomized control trials that evaluated yoga as a treatment for tension-type or migraine headaches as defined by the International Classification of Headache Disorders. They included studies with publication dates up to May of 2019. Specifically, they evaluated yoga’s effects on headache frequency, duration, and pain intensity.
Both the sample of participants as well as the specific yoga treatments varied considerably among each of the smaller studies that were included in the review. Among all the studies included, there were 240 total participants who ranged in age from 15-60 years old. Yoga treatments varied from 6-16 weeks in length of study. Individual yoga session duration ranged from 30-75 minutes. Yoga session frequency ranged from 1-5 sessions per week.
Researchers found that yoga treatments reduced the frequency, duration, and pain intensity of tension-type headaches compared to “usual care”. Usual care was defined by each individual smaller study included in the meta-analysis.
Yoga treatments did not significantly reduce any of the three measurements: frequency, duration, or pain intensity, of migraine headaches.
Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?
Headaches are extremely prevalent and a source of pain that intrudes on the quality of life for many people. If you already practice yoga and experience headaches, you may already be aware of situations where yoga practice alleviates some of your headache symptoms. For those who haven’t done a yoga practice before, potentially reducing headache symptoms is one reason you might want to give it a try. While the research is inconclusive as to when and how yoga may reduce headache symptoms, no negative side effects were reported. So, that makes yoga a treatment to at least consider before resorting to pharmacological treatments with potential negative side effects.