The Efficacy of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Approaches in Chronic Migraine: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Creative Commons License

ONAN D., Ekizoğlu E., Arıkan H., Taşdelen B., Özge A., Martelletti P.

Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, vol.22, no.5, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 22 Issue: 5
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.31083/j.jin2205126
  • Journal Name: Journal of Integrative Neuroscience
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, BIOSIS, Biotechnology Research Abstracts, MEDLINE, Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Keywords: chronic migraine, disability, exercise, headache frequency, intensity of headache, manual therapy, physical therapy; rehabilitation, quality of life, randomized controlled trials
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


Background: Pharmacological treatment is the primary approach in chronic migraine (CM), although non-drug interventions such as physical therapy are used as adjunct treatments. We aimed to review the efficacy of physical therapy and rehabilitation approaches for CM and their impact on quality of life (QoL) and disability. Methods: This systematic review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines and included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in adults with CM. The primary outcomes were changes in intensity, frequency, duration of headache, disability, and QoL. Methodological quality was assessed using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) scale. Data synthesis and quantitative analysis were conducted on relevant studies. Results: Seven RCTs were included in the narrative review, and five of them were eligible for quantitative analysis. Aerobic exercise (AE), osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), occipital transcutaneous electrical stimulation (OTES), acupressure, hydrotherapy, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), facial proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (FPNF), and connective tissue massage (CTM) were used in CM. AE combined with pharmacological therapy reduced the frequency, duration, and intensity of headache. OMT combined with medication improved QoL and reduced disability, intensity of pain, and migraine days per month. Hydrotherapy combined with medication also resulted in improvements in the intensity of headache, frequency, and overall QoL. IASTM and OTES reduced the intensity of headache, alleviated neck pain, and improved QoL, although there were conflicting findings following OTES alone on disability and intensity of headache. Both FPNF and CTM reduced the intensity of headache. Acupressure as an adjunct to medication did not show additional benefits on the intensity of headache and QoL. Quantitative analysis of the data showed that manual physical therapy combined with medication reduced the intensity of headache (p = 0.0796), and manual or AE combined with medication reduced the headache days per month (p = 0.047). Conclusions: A limited number of RCTs investigating the efficacy of physical therapy and rehabilitation approaches show promise in improving headache symptoms, reducing disability, and enhancing QoL in CM. Meta-analysis of the data also supported favorable outcomes for both intensity and headache days per month. Further research is needed to better understand the efficacy, optimal duration, and safety of physical therapy and rehabilitation approaches for CM, and to explore alternative interventions.