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13. Complementary therapies

‘Complementary therapy’ suggests an approach that is used as well as or to support more traditional medical treatment. ‘Alternative therapy’ suggests an approach that is used instead of rather than in support of more traditional types of care.

Complementary is the phrase that best reflects the point at which these therapies should be considered. It should not be an ‘either/or’ but an ‘as well as’.

Physical therapies, such as aromatherapy, rarely do harm and, if nothing else, often allow you to have a ‘time out’ from what may be a full and busy day, week or month.

Think about your migraine threshold and all the things that you could do to raise that threshold. Herbal remedies are often seen as natural and therefore must be safe. This is not always so, as there are documented incidents when people have become ill or even died, after taking herbal remedies, whether Eastern or Western in their source. Many factors are relevant, including where the plants were grown, when they were harvested and how pure the final product is.

Remember that few complementary therapies are available on the NHS, and you will have to pay for them yourself. When considering trying out a complementary therapy, ask the practitioner as many questions as you want or need before committing yourself.

You need to be sure that they have all the relevant qualifications, are registered with a professional body and have appropriate insurance. With therapies that are regulated by law, there should be no problems because you can check with the relevant body that the therapist is registered with them. Be wary of anyone who promises to cure your headaches for ever or recommends that you use a therapy without first discussing it with your doctor.

Although some doctors are skeptical about the value of complementary therapies, they are usually happy for you to try something else if traditional medicine hasn’t really been able to help. But your doctor knows about your overall health and is better equipped to advise you about any possibly doubtful aspects.

Everyone is looking for a ‘cure’ for their headaches and a huge industry has evolved in the complementary therapy area. None of these therapies will specifically treat your migraine but the range of approaches has the potential to modify or improve pain and your response to pain; it is a preventative rather than an acute treatment.

Complementary therapies are not free and you need to be just as informed about using them and choosing your therapist as you would about anything else you invest in.

There is value in a therapy only if it ‘works’ and the only way to be certain of that is to undertake a clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of any therapy. The quality of research in the area of complementary therapy is variable and sometimes difficult to evaluate. In this chapter I have tried to offer an objective view of the data and evidence available.

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