Comprehensive Biofeedback Versus Self-Monitored Relaxation in the Treatment of Tension Headache


  • Jeffrey C. Steger Ph.D.,

  • Robert G. Harper Ph.D.

  • This study was supported in part by Grant No. 16-P-98818-0 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Department of HEW, Washington, D.C.



Muscle contraction headaches have been demonstrated to significantly decrease following EMG biofeedback as well as general relaxation practice. This study contrasted the efficacy of a comprehensive biofeedback and stress management strategy and a self-monitored home relaxation program in the treatment of 20 tension headache sufferers. The results suggested that while both treatment strategies successfully increased patients' ability to relax and reduce frontalis EMG levels, only the comprehensive biofeedback program was successful in reducing reports of headache pain and feelings of psychological distress. The findings support the utility of a headache treatment model beginning with simple relaxation and progressing on a case by case basis to more comprehensive tension and stress management strategies (like EMG biofeedback and cognitive stress coping techniques) only when the less costly relaxation proves ineffective in altering subjective feelings of pain or distress.