Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Brief Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Chronic Tension-Type Headache: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study

  • Stuart Cathcart (a1), Nicola Galatis (a2), Maarten Immink (a2), Michael Proeve (a3) and John Petkov (a2)...

Background: Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) has been demonstrated to be effective for reducing chronic pain symptoms; however, the use of MBT for Chronic Tension-Type Headache (CTH) exclusively has to date not been examined. Typically, MBT for chronic pain has involved an 8-week program based on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Recent research suggests briefer mindfulness-based treatments may be effective for chronic pain. Aims: To conduct a pilot study into the efficacy of brief MBT for CTH. Method: We conducted a randomized controlled trial of a brief (6-session, 3-week) MBT for CTH. Results: Results indicated a significant decrease in headache frequency and an increase in the mindfulness facet of Observe in the treatment but not wait-list control group. Conclusion: Brief MBT may be an effective intervention for CTH.

Corresponding author
Reprint requests to Stuart Cathcart, Centre for Applied Psychology, University of Canberra, Bruce 2601, Australia. E-mail:
Hide All
Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J. and Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 2745.
Bendtsen, L. and Jensen, R. (2006). Tension-type headache: the most common, but also the most neglected, headache disorder. Current Opinion in Neurology, 19, 305309.
Bezov, D., Ashina, S., Jensen, R. and Bendtsen, L. (2011). Pain perception studies in tension-type headache. Headache, 51, 262271.
Blanchard, E. B., Kim, M., Hermann, C. U. and Steffek, B. D. (1993). Preliminary results of the effects on headache relief of perception of success among tension headache patients receiving relaxation. Headache Quarterly, 4, 249253.
Carmody, J. and Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31, 2333.
Carmody, J. and Baer, R. (2009). How long does a mindfulness-based stress reduction program need to be? A review of class contact hours and effect sizes for psychological distress. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 627638.
Cathcart, S., Petkov, J., Winefield, A. H., Lushington, K. and Rolan, P. (2010). Central mechanisms of stress-induced headache. Cephalalgia, 30, 285295.
Cathcart, S. and Pritchard, D. (1998). Relationships between arousal related moods and episodic tension type headache: a biopsychological study. Headache, 38, 214221.
Cathcart, S. and Pritchard, D. (2008). Daily hassles and pain sensitivity in chronic tension-type headache sufferers. Stress and Health, 24, 123127.
Cathcart, S., Winefield, A. H., Lushington, K. and Rolan, P. (2010). Stress and tension-type headache mechanisms. Cephalalgia, 30, 12501267.
Fitchel, A. and Larsson, B. (2001). Does relaxation treatment have differential effects on migraine and tension-type headache in adolescents. Headache, 41, 290296.
Fumal, A. and Schoenen, J. (2008). Tension-type headache: current research and clinical management. Lancet Neurology, 7, 7083.
Grossman, P., Neimann, L., Stefan, S. and Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 3543.
Hutchinson, M. R., Bland, S. T., Johnson, K. W., Rice, K. C., Maier, S. F. and Watkins, L. R. (2007). Opioid-induced glial activation: mechanisms of activation and implications for opioid analgesia, dependence, and reward. Scientific World Journal, 7, 98111.
International Headache Society (2004). International Classification of Headache Disorders (2nd edn.) Cephalalgia, 24 (suppl. 1), 9160.
Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., et al. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annuals of Behavioral Medicine, 33, 1121.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry, 4, 3347.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. and Burney, R. (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 163190.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Burney, R. and Sellers, W. (1986). Four year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain: treatment outcomes and compliance. Clinical Journal of Pain, 2, 159173.
Kingston, J., Chadwick, P., Meron, D. and Skinner, T. C. (2007). A pilot randomized control trial investigating the effect of mindfulness practice on pain tolerance, psychological well-being, and physiological activity. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 62, 297300.
Liang, K. Y. and Zeger, S. (1986). Longitudinal data analysis using generalized linear models. Biometrika, 73, 1322.
Lovibond, S. H. and Lovibond, P. F. (1995). Manual for the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (2nd ed.). Sydney: Psychology Foundation.
Martin, P. R. and MacLeod, C. (2009). Behavioral management of headache triggers: avoidance of triggers is an inadequate strategy. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 483495.
Morone, N. E., Greco, C. M. and Weiner, D. K. (2008). Mindfulness meditation for the treatment of chronic low back pain in older adults: a randomized controlled pilot study. Pain, 134, 310319.
Nash-McFeron, D. E. (2006). Mindfulness in the treatment of chronic headache pain. Dissertation Abstracts International, 67, 2841.
Nash, J. M. and Thebarge, R. W. (2006). Understanding psychological stress, its biological processes, and impact on primary headache. Headache, 46, 13771386.
Plews-Ogan, M., Owens, J. E., Goodman, M., Wolfe, P. and Schorling, J. (2005). A pilot study evaluating mindfulness-based stress reduction and massage for the management of chronic pain. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 20, 11361138.
Pradhan, E. K., Baumgarten, M., Langenberg, P., Handwerger, B., Gilpin, A. K., Magyari, T., et al. (2007). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Arthritis Rheum, 57, 134142.
Rosdahl, D. R. L. (2003). The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Tension Headaches and Secretory Immunoglobulin A in Saliva. Arizona: The University of Arizona.
Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A. and Beasley, D. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68, 2936.
Sartory, G., Muller, B., Metsch, J. and Pothmann, R. (1998). A comparison of psychological and pharmacological treatment of pediatric migraine. Behavioral Research Therapy, 36, 11551170.
Schmidt, S., Grossman, P., Schwarzer, B., Jena, S., Naumann, J. and Walach, H. (2011). Treating fibromyalgia with mindfulness-based stress reduction: results from a 3-armed randomized controlled trial. Pain, 152, 361369.
Schoenen, J. (2006). Tension-type headache. In MacMahon, S. and Koltzenburg, M. (Eds.). Wall and Melzack's Textbook of Pain (5thedn). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Schwartz, B., Stewart, W., Simon, D. and Lipton, R. (1998). Epidemiology of tension-type headache. JAMA, 279, 381383.
Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G. and Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: a new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford.
Singh, B. B., Berman, B. M., Hadhazy, V. A. and Creamer, P. (1998). A pilot study of cognitive behavioral therapy in fibromyalgia. Alternative Therapy Health Medicine, 4, 467470.
SPSS Inc. (2009). Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Release 17.0. Vesta Services Inc, USA.
Zautra, A. J., Davis, M. C., Reich, J. W., Nicassio, P., Tennen, H., Finan, P., et al. (2008). Comparison of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 408421.
Zeidan, F., Gordon, N. S., Merchant, J. and Goolkasian, P. (2010). The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. The Journal of Pain, 11, 199209.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy
  • ISSN: 1352-4658
  • EISSN: 1469-1833
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed