The most universal and ancient experiences of pain, despite age, gender, or genetic background has been the all too familiar headache. It has become such a part of our known reality that the headache has become a metaphor and symbol for anything that is unwanted, annoying, and uncomfortable. All associations aside however, headaches and migraines have a tangible reality that hinders many individual’s quality of life. With an estimated global prevalence of about 1.1billion sufferers, migraines and headaches are the most common neurological disease worldwide, which carries a hefty burden not only on one’s personal life, but upon the economy of their country of residence.
Despite the current state of study and knowledge of headaches, and despite the widespread availability of drugs, their treatment still largely remains unabated. So much so, that the global market for migraine medication, excluding conventional over-the-counter headache drugs, is valued close to $2billion, with a yearly growth rate of over 3%.
However familiar and common headaches and migraines are, they have many different causes, with everything from food triggers, to changes in hormones, stress, and hypertension being among the most prevalent. Even though they are termed differently, a migraine is just a specific type of headache that also includes other symptoms such as nausea, hypersensitivity to light or sound, and in some cases even vomiting. The biological mechanisms of headaches, irrespective of the cause, are experienced through the pain sensitive nerve endings of the trigeminal nerve, which are triggered by different environmental cues.
Fundamentally, a migraine is categorized as a neurovascular disorder, with documented associations to cardiovascular disease. It is characterized by increased excitability of the brain and nervous system. The field of brain wave (EEG) research has uncovered some important clinical information about the nature of migraines. Studies have shown that the occurrence of epileptiform activity in the brain, which is associated with seizures, also shows up in over 50% of migraine cases. Although a migraine sufferer may never experience a full seizure, the presence of epileptiform brain activity is in fact the same activity that gives rise to seizures when present in a higher quantity. Another finding has shown that abnormal coherence (connectivity) of brain networks is potentially a key driver of the onset of a migraine.
The field of neurofeedback and biofeedback has also included some powerful technology such as passive infrared hemoencephalography (pIR HEG), which measures the thermal activity of the frontal part of the brain, which is the outcome of the rate of blood flow. By training circulation and blood perfusion in the frontal lobes, an individual is able to offset the occurrence of one of the most common causes of migraines.
One of the central instruments of neurofeedback technology is the QEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram) or brain map. This tool consists of a 19-electrode (channel) cap and a digital amplifier. Each electrode is positioned over key sites of the scalp, which correspond to specific areas of the brain, defined by the Brodmann areas, which are universally used in neuroscience to distinguish various features of brain anatomy. The application of this device measures the electrical activity of the brain, which is then processed and analyzed to show which areas may have abnormal function. These areas are then configured into the neurofeedback protocols that a clinician will use in the course of the client’s brain training. The ability of the QEEG to offer an individualized approach to targeting the specific dysfunction that underpins someone’s headaches, provides a cutting-edge approach that meets the client where they are, instead of fitting them into an already existing category.
A quality study conducted in 2010 included 71 participants that underwent an average of 24 sessions, and 54% experienced complete remission of migraines, and the rest had over 50% reduction in symptoms. These types of results have never been recreated by any other therapeutic protocol in the treatment of migraines.