A new study found relaxation techniques can help cut monthly migraine attacks.

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Behavioral exercises may help diminish migraine symptoms over time. Getty Images

Over 36 million people in the United States experience an excruciating form of recurring headache attacks, otherwise known as migraine.

Migraine, which causes an intense throbbing pain typically on one side of your head, can be an incredibly debilitating and incapacitating condition.

The pain often lingers for hours on end, making it difficult for people to carry on with their social lives, jobs, and day-to-day activities.

Now, new research out of New York University School of Medicine suggests that regularly using a smartphone-based relaxation app, called RELAXaHEAD, can help some people better manage migraine.

NYU partnered with the Boston-based software firm Irody Inc. to develop the app. The app, which NYU has a financial interest in, is not yet available in working form on iTunes. It’s only available for people taking part in the study.

People who used the app at least twice a week experienced about four fewer migraine attacks a month, according to the study, which was published in Nature Digital Medicine on June 4.

“This is a pretty safe, effective treatment for migraine prevention,” the study’s senior investigator Dr. Mia Minen, an assistant professor of population health and chief of headache research at NYU Langone Health, told Healthline.

“It can be incorporated into everyday living and it can essentially be done anywhere. Once learned, it’s a tool that people can have for the rest of their lives,” she added.

The app uses relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress and potentially reduce migraine symptoms.

To understand the app’s effectiveness, the research team recruited 51 patients who, on average, suffered from about 13 severe migraine attacks per month.

Each patient was asked to use the app for 20 minutes per day for 90 days.

The app delivered a type of therapy known as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), teaching people deep breathing exercises and how to tense and relax certain muscle groups in order to reduce stress, Minen explained.

Throughout the study, patients recorded how they felt along with the number of migraine attacks they experienced.

The researchers also tracked how much time each patient spent doing the relaxation exercises on the app each week.

The individuals who used the app longer and more frequently experienced approximately four fewer migraine attacks each month. Those who sporadically used the app experienced two fewer migraine attacks per month.

The findings are significant and show that the app may work as well as some migraine preventive medications, Minen said.

“Clearly, there is much to be gained from incorporating technology into treatment strategies, and they are often less expensive, more effective, and associated with fewer side effects than medications,” says Dr. Robert Cowan, the chief of the Division of Headache Medicine at Stanford University.

Migraine affects people of all ages and symptoms generally vary from person to person.

“While most patients experience headaches, some patients can experience dizziness, nausea, vomiting, blurry visions, floaters in the eye and, rarely, even faint,” says Dr. Kiran Rajneesh, a board-certified neurologist and pain physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Traditionally, people who experience migraine receive two types of treatment to manage their symptoms: prescription medications and behavioral therapy.

Research has shown that the best course of action is a combination of the two.

However, many people don’t pursue these behavioral treatments because they can’t afford them or they don’t live near a treatment facility.

Additionally, some people don’t respond well to the medications while others experience harsh side effects.

“Even though we now have a number of different treatment options for the prevention and management of acute migraine headache, many patients continue to have headaches that occur frequently,” explains Dr. Daniel Franc, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

“Moreover, many patients wish to use nonmedical options for migraine treatment and prevention due to concerns for medication side effects or unintended long-term consequences,” Franc added.

These relaxation techniques don’t require an app. Anyone could learn and adopt them to see if it helps their migraine symptoms.

For those interested in an app for migraine treatment, the behavioral therapy via app is a low-cost option that people can do from the comfort of their own home, according to Minen.

The ultimate goal, Minen said, is for people to learn PMR techniques so they can eventually do it on their own, even without the app.

Still, she recommends people continue taking their migraine medication.

“We know from prior research that the best treatment for migraine prevention is the combination of medications and behavioral therapy, so I would recommend that people use it with their medication(s),” Minen said.

The research team is currently investigating exactly how long and how often people need to use the app for the best results.

New research from New York University suggests that using a relaxation smartphone app can help significantly reduce the amount of migraine attacks people experience each month.

Research has shown that the best treatment method for migraine is a combination of medications and behavioral therapy. However, most people don’t receive either due to access and affordability issues. Using the app is a low-cost, risk-free option that people can do from home.