Does Music Help With Migraine? A Survey of the Evidence
Singing the Blues
One thing that’s great about music as an art form is that it’s infinitely accessible; while some people may feel ambivalent about theater, rarely visit museums, or don’t read many novels, everyone has a favorite song or artist. No matter what your favorite genre is, it’s transformative: tunes evoke feelings, inspire moments of joy, and help you relax. It’s no wonder, then, that this avenue has increasingly been explored for its medical benefits, and, in particular, it’s theorized that music may help with migraine headaches.
There’s no doubt that sounds and auditory stimuli have an influence on migraine; certain noises can serve as triggers. It stands to reason, then, that this might be a two-way street: the right kinds of music might actually help alleviate headaches and other symptoms. Browsing through music-streaming services like Spotify, or in music stores, you might even find playlists or albums specifically devoted to migraine relief.
The question is, can music actually help?
Turning up the Science
The effect of music on chronic headache conditions like migraines has been examined by a number of researchers. There’s more work to be done, of course, but evidence is emerging that music can indeed have a positive effect. Here’s a breakdown of two such studies:
- Music Therapy Groups: In 2001, three German researchers, Drs. Risch, Scherg and Verres, evaluated the efficacy of music therapy sessions in 25 chronic migraine or tension headache adults. Given questionnaires about pain and psychological effects before the sessions, immediately afterward and 6-12 months following treatment, test subjects noted significant improvement as compared to a control group. According to the authors, listening to music therapeutically “enabled the patients to develop creative solutions, which resulted in pain relief 6-12 months later,” with most reporting less headache days as well. Dr. Risch and the team believe that, alongside other therapies, a music therapy approach can help. 
- Effective in Children: A study published in the European Journal of Pain in 2008 assessed the efficacy of music therapy alongside the use of butterbur root extract (Petadolex®, known to be effective in some cases) in school-age chronic migraineurs. The researchers split a total of 58 subjects into three groups: those only taking the extract, those only undergoing therapy, and a placebo group. In comparing the frequency of headaches eight weeks and six months after a three-month period of treatment, they found that those in the music therapy group showed as much effect as those taking medications. Both groups reported significantly less headache days than the placebo. 
It should be noted that this evidence is preliminary; the authors of both acknowledge that more research is warranted.
Relax, Get To It
Not all scientists and doctors concur that an actual effect has been demonstrated,  and you certainly won’t find a song that automatically and immediately “cures” you. But, as anyone can attest, the experience of listening to certain music is relaxing. And it’s that calming effect that’s believed to be what makes songs and sounds work as migraine treatment.
As highlighted in a review article published in The Journal of Pain, the use of “biofeedback” (BFB), a series of techniques to help one relax, is known to be highly effective in reducing the duration and intensity of migraine attacks.  The effect was even comparable to some pharmaceutical treatments. The song remains the same: there are promising signs that calm, soothing music can help ease the burden of headaches.
Alongside other treatments, then, it might be worth trying to take some deep breaths and putting on some calming tracks. It certainly never hurts to stop and give a favored song a listen.
To learn about the latest approaches to migraines, talk to a Patient Care Manager at Migraine Treatment Centers of America. The team here is a leader in providing dedicated treatment to those in their care. Call them now at (855) 300-6822.
- Risch, M., Scherg, H. and Verres, R. (2001). [Music therapy for chronic headaches. Evaluation of music therapeutic groups for patients suffering from chronic headaches]. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11810342 [Accessed 11 May 2017].
- Oelkers-Ax, Rieke, Anne Leins, Peter Parzer, Thomas Hillecke, Hans V. Bolay, Jochen Fischer, Stephan Bender, Uta Hermanns, and Franz Resch. 2008. “Butterbur Root Extract And Music Therapy In The Prevention Of Childhood Migraine: An Explorative Study”. European Journal Of Pain12 (3): 301-313. Wiley-Blackwell. doi:10.1016/j.ejpain.2007.06.003.
- Koenig J, et al. 2017. “Specific Music Therapy Techniques In The Treatment Of Primary Headache Disorders In Adolescents: A Randomized Attention-Placebo-Controlled Trial. – Pubmed – NCBI “. Nlm.Nih.Gov. Accessed May 11 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23
- Nestoriuc, Y. and Martin, A. (2007). Efficacy of biofeedback for migraine: a meta-analysis. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17084028 [Accessed 11 May 2017].