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Timothy C. Hain, MD, Chicago IL. Page last modified: April 30, 2016


cefalyThere are numerous studies (see reference list for a few) that report improvement of migraine with transcutaneous stimulation. The most recent device, Cefaly -- is a TENS unit recently FDA approved for migraine (2014). It stimulates the supraorbital nerve. There are many reports of migraine getting better from nerve stimulation (e.g. occipital nerve, sphenopalatine nerve, auricular nerve) as well as benefitting from nerve blocks (Magis, 2015; Ashkenazi and Young, 2005) and even infrared lasers -- i.e. heat (Allias et al, 2003). Puzzling, eh ? This may be a lot of wishful thinking (Ambrosini and Schoenen, 2016). Afterall, we are dealing with a subjective disorder.

The illustration on the left is from the cefaly web site. The double blind placebo controlled study in Belgium reported that it reduced the mean # of headache days. The therapeutic gain reported was 26%. This puts this device into the "mildly effective" category, as compared to migraine medications such as venlafaxine, verapamil, or topiramate which generally are effective in about half or more. We have not had a single patient ever benefit from this device.

It can be obtained with a prescription for $295. As a general rule, health insurance is slow to pay for "durable medical devices", such as this one. In other words, this is a $295"out of pocket" expense. A review of this device can be found here.

The principal of the Cefaly device is stimulation of the supraorbital nerves. There are cheaper TENS units that are not as "cool" looking that can be adapted for the same purpose, and rented rather than purchased. This cuts the "out of pocket" cost down immensely. We think this is a logical way to proceed when trying out this treatment. In our clinical practice in Chicago, we have a mechanism set up to have a conventional TENS unit programmed for chronic pain.

References for TENS treatments of migraine:


Copyright August 3, 2016 , Timothy C. Hain, M.D. All rights reserved. Last saved on August 3, 2016