Hypnotherapy or transcendental meditation versus progressive muscle relaxation exercises in the treatment of children with primary headaches: a multi-centre, pragmatic, randomised clinical study

Eur J Pediatr. 2019 Feb;178(2):147-154. doi: 10.1007/s00431-018-3270-3. Epub 2018 Oct 24.


Many children suffer from headaches. Since stress may trigger headaches, effective techniques to cope with stress are needed. We investigated the effectiveness of two mind-body techniques, transcendental meditation (TM) or hypnotherapy (HT), and compared them with progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercises (active control group). Children (9-18 years) suffering from primary headaches more than two times per month received either TM (N = 42), HT (N = 45) or PMR (N = 44) for 3 months. Primary outcomes were frequency of headaches and ≥ 50% reduction in headaches at 3 and 9 months. Secondary outcomes were adequate relief, pain coping, anxiety and depressive symptoms, somatisation and safety of treatment. Groups were comparable at baseline. Headache frequency was significantly reduced in all groups from 18.9 days per month to 12.5 and 10.5 at respectively 3 and 9 months (p < 0.001), with no significant differences between the groups. Clinically relevant headache reduction (≥ 50%) was observed in 41% and 47% of children at 3 and 9 months respectively, with no significant differences between the groups. No differences were observed in secondary outcome measures between the intervention groups. No adverse events were reported.Conclusion: All three techniques reduced primary headache in children and appeared to be safe.Trial registration: NTR 2955, 28 June 2011 ( www.trialregister.nl ) What is Known: • Stress may be an important trigger for both tension type headache and migraine in children. • Good data are lacking on the effect of transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy or progressive muscle relaxation as possible stress-reducing therapies in children with primary headaches. What is New: • Three non-pharmacological techniques, i.e., transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy and progressive muscle relaxation exercises, all result in a clinically significant reduction of headaches and use of pain medication. • No large differences between the three techniques were found, suggesting that children can choose either one of the three techniques based on personal preferences.

Keywords: Children; Headache; Hypnotherapy; Meditation; Pain; Relaxation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Child
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Female
  • Headache / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis / methods*
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome