US scientists develop relaxation mobile app to help manage migraines

05 June 2019 - 15:03 By AFP Relaxnews
Migraine sufferers who used the app-based relaxation technique at least twice a week experienced on average four fewer headache days per month.
Migraine sufferers who used the app-based relaxation technique at least twice a week experienced on average four fewer headache days per month.
Image: Valentinrussanov / iStock via AFP Relaxnews

Researchers in the US have developed a smartphone application aimed at migraine sufferers, guiding them through a relaxation technique involving alternately relaxing and tensing different muscle groups. 

Developed by scientists at New York University School of Medicine, the app - called RELAXaHead - guides patients through a relaxation technique called progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. Published in the journal Nature Digital Medicine, the study is billed as the first to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of a mobile app in treating migraines.

Migraine frequency varies from one individual to the next, potentially ranging from one migraine a year to several per week. As well as causing severe head pain, migraines can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound.

Causes of migraine can be linked to genetic and hormonal factors, as well as lifestyle factors such as stress and anxiety. As a result, it can be of interest to steer patients towards cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), teaching them ways of managing anxiety in order to reduce the frequency of migraine episodes.

REGULAR USE COULD REDUCE HEADACHE DAYS

The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the application on 51 migraine patients with an average age of 39. Patients used the app for 90 days and kept a daily record of the frequency and severity of their headaches. The app kept track of how long each patient used PMR.

The experiment showed that migraine patients who practised PMR with the application at least twice a week experienced on average four fewer headache days per month. Study senior investigator and neurologist Mia Minen, MD, MPH, considers that, when taken as a whole, the study results suggest that accessible smartphone technologies "can effectively teach patients lifelong skills needed to manage their migraines."

Still, during the study period, PMR therapy via the RELAXaHead app dropped to 51% after six weeks and to 29% after 90 days. The authors expected to see a gradual drop in app use and now plan to identify ways to encourage more frequent sessions. They also intend to study optimal ways of introducing the app into their clinical practices. The application is not yet available to the public.


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