Help Headaches in Adolescents with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness meditation is proving to be of significant help in not only reducing migraines or chronic pain, but improvements in mood, outlook on life and illness, increased coping skills, enhanced sense of well-being, changes in perception of pain, higher tolerance of pain, enhanced immune function, less fatigue and stress and better sleep.” – Cynthia Perkins


Headaches are the most common disorders of the nervous system. It has been estimated that 47% of the adult population have a headache at least once during the last year. There are a wide variety of drugs that are prescribed for chronic headache pain with varying success. Headaches are treated with pain relievers, ergotamine, blood pressure drugs such as propranolol, verapamil, antidepressants, antiseizure drugs, and muscle relaxants. Drugs, however, can have some problematic side effects particularly when used regularly and are ineffective for many sufferers. So, almost all practitioners consider lifestyle changes that help control stress and promote regular exercise to be an important part of headache treatment and prevention. Avoiding situations that trigger headaches is also vital.


Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective treatment for headache pain in adults. It is not known whether it is also effective for adolescents. Yet, 60% of children and adolescents report headaches, with 20% having frequent or severe headaches. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Adolescents with Recurrent Headaches: A Pilot Feasibility Study.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Hesse and colleagues study the effectiveness of mindfulness training for recurrent headaches in adolescents. They recruited adolescent females with recurrent headaches. The teens received group mindfulness training once a week for 1 to 1.5 hours for 12 weeks. Before and after training the adolescents recorded their mindfulness practices and headaches, and completed scales measuring headache-related disability, anxiety, depression, and quality of life, while their parents also completed a report of the teens’ quality of life.


They found that mindfulness training did not produce any changes in the frequency or severity of headaches, headache-related disability, or anxiety, but a significant reduction in depression and an improvement in acceptance of headache pain. The parents reported that the adolescents had improved physical quality of life. Hence, mindfulness training improved the teen’s depression, quality of life, and acceptance of pain but not the headaches themselves. These are encouraging results that need to be followed up with a large randomized controlled clinical trial. But, they suggest that mindfulness training may be a useful treatment for headache pain in adolescents.


Mindfulness practices may be helpful with headache pain by focusing attention on the present moment. This has been shown to reduce worry and catastrophizing which, in turn, reduces depression. Pain is increased by worry about the pain and the expectation of greater pain in the future. So, reducing worry and catastrophizing can reduce headache pain. Mindfulness teaches the individual to view pain as a present moment experience that can be experienced just as it is and accept it. As a result, the individual accepts the pain and stops fighting against it, which can amplify the pain.


So, help headaches in adolescents with mindfulness.


“Years of research and clinical experience demonstrate that behavioral medicine methods can have a powerful effect on pain, especially when used in conjunction with medical treatment. Behavioral medicine examines and trains an individual to become aware of the power of the mind and emotions on physical health. One potent method for recovering health is meditation.” – Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Hesse, T., Holmes, L. G., Kennedy-Overfelt, V., Kerr, L. M., & Giles, L. L. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Adolescents with Recurrent Headaches: A Pilot Feasibility Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2015, 508958.



Recurrent headaches cause significant burden for adolescents and their families. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been shown to reduce stress and alter the experience of pain, reduce pain burden, and improve quality of life. Research indicates that MBIs can benefit adults with chronic pain conditions including headaches. A pilot nonrandomized clinical trial was conducted with 20 adolescent females with recurrent headaches. Median class attendance was 7 of 8 total sessions; average class attendance was 6.10 ± 2.6. Adherence to home practice was good, with participants reporting an average of 4.69 (SD = 1.84) of 6 practices per week. Five participants dropped out for reasons not inherent to the group (e.g., extracurricular scheduling); no adverse events were reported. Parents reported improved quality of life and physical functioning for their child. Adolescent participants reported improved depression symptoms and improved ability to accept their pain rather than trying to control it. MBIs appear safe and feasible for adolescents with recurrent headaches. Although participants did not report decreased frequency or severity of headache following treatment, the treatment had a beneficial effect for depression, quality of life, and acceptance of pain and represents a promising adjunct treatment for adolescents with recurrent headaches.


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