Although the exact cause of the pain associated
with a migraine headache is unknown, researchers generally agree
it has something to do with the cerebrovascular system. Many believe
certain triggers can cause the blood vessels in the brain to constrict,
and the pain of a migraine comes later when the blood vessels dilate.
Psychology Associate Professor David Freides is investigating a
new technique that may help migraine sufferers regulate the activity
in the brain that ultimately produces the headache. It is surprisingly
simple; in fact, the device uses the same type of technology in
television remote controls: infrared (IR) light. Infrared emissions
are produced by all matter that has a temperature above absolute
Mounted on a person’s forehead with Velcro straps, the device
is attached to an output box that reports in temperature units the
intensity of IR emissions coming from the target area. It actually
works more like a camera than a thermometer in that the IR system
detects intensity changes in low-frequency light (invisible to the
human eye) through a lens.
The device is strategically centered on the frontal lobes, which
may have regulatory functions for other parts of the brain. Participants
in Freides’ research study are trained to raise and sustain
the temperature of the target area. While doing this they are asked
to maintain a state of “relaxed concentration” and told
that each person must find their own way of doing this.
“It seems like an oxymoron: How do you stay relaxed and yet
concentrate?” Freides said. “But there is something
about this procedure that is reminiscent of the paradoxes in some
types of Eastern meditation.”
During the training process, participants are seated in a comfortable
chair while watching a movie. Using the device as a gauge, they
are asked to increase their frontal lobe activity, throughout the
session. If the activity decreases instead, the movie will pause
until it returns to the earlier level. The first training session
lasts about 90 minutes, and the following seven sessions take approximately
half that long.
There is much yet to be learned about exactly what is happening
in the brain when people are performing this procedure and why it
would help migraine sufferers, but Jeffrey Carmen, who developed
the apparatus for his private practice in New York, speculates that
it stimulates the inhibitory functions of the frontal lobe.
Freides is excited about his preliminary results. Of seven study
participants so far, only one did not demonstrate improvement. Participants
all previously had frequent migraines (three per month for at least
six months), and the six who reported improvement were headache-free
for at least two months. One participant who had suffered migraines
for 40 years has now gone six months without one.
“I get such gratification,” Freides said, “when
people come in and say, ‘I don’t have a headache.’
It’s like they can’t believe it.”
The technology is relatively inexpensive and the procedure fast-acting,
with most people seeing results within two to three sessions. Additionally,
it is a “treatment” that comes from within the individual;
the procedure involves training rather than medicating. All of these
factors prompted Freides’ investigation.
“My getting into biofeedback was mostly based on a wish to
do something to help people more directly,” he said. “I’ve
been a psychologist for more than 40 years, and I’ve never
seen anything work as fast or as powerfully as this does. It’s
In his research, Freides hopes to learn more about what kind of
headache conditions are responsive to this procedure. He theorized
that people with a genetic basis for migraine are likely to respond
to the procedure on a short-term basis, whereas people with other
types of migraines would see longer-term results.
Freides is looking for more participants 18 years or older who suffer
at least three migraines per month that are not symptomatic of a
medical disease. The eight treatments are free of charge. Anyone
interested can contact Freides at 404-727-7459.