In a prospective, randomised, open-label superiority trial that recruited 114 adults with episodic migraine, the group assigned to an hour of yoga daily had less frequent and shorter migraine episodes and less severe headache than a control group who had usual medical therapy.
In the study, published in Neurology, participants who had a history of four to 14 headaches per month were randomly assigned to a control group of medication-only or to yoga plus medication.
The people in the yoga group were taught a one-hour yoga practice that included breathing and relaxation exercises and postures. People were supervised by a yoga instructor three days a week for one month. Then they practiced on their own at home for five days a week.
On follow up after three months, migraine improved in both the medication-only group as well as the yoga group, but the benefit was higher in the yoga group.
Compared to usual therapy, the yoga group showed a significant reduction in headache frequency (delta difference 3.53, p < 0.0001), headache intensity (1.31, p = 0.0004), HIT score (8.0, p < 0.0001) and MIDAS score (7.85, p < 0.0001).
For headache frequency, the yoga group started with an average of 9.1 headaches per month, and ended the study reporting just 4.7 headaches per month, a 48% reduction.
The medication-only group reported an average of 7.7 headaches per month at the start of the study and 6.8 at the end of the three months, a 12% decrease.
The average number of migraine medications used by people in the yoga group decreased by 47% after three months, compared to a reduction of about 12% in the control group.
The study authors acknowledged that the trial was only for three months and the outcomes were based on patient self reporting of symptoms.
But they said yoga offered the potential as an inexpensive and safe intervention to be added to into the management of migraine.
“Migraine is one of the most common headache disorders, but only about half the people taking medication for it get real relief,” said study author Dr Rohit Bhatia of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
“Our results show that yoga can reduce not just the pain, but also the treatment cost of migraines,” he said.
“That can be a real game changer, especially for people who struggle to afford their medication. Medications are usually prescribed first, and some can be expensive.”
“The good news is that practicing something as simple and accessible as yoga may help much more than medications alone. And all you need is a mat.”