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Cefaly for Migraine: Diminishing Returns & No Long-Term Relief

My early success with the Cefaly, the external nerve stimulator I told you about last summer, didn’t hold up. I used it for at least an hour a day for six months, over which time my relief from it decreased from three hours a day to no relief at all. None of the published studies on the Cefaly talk about this happening, but none of them studied its use for more than a few months.

The Cefaly can be used to stop migraine attacks in progress (and to stop other types of headaches, according to the manual, though all the published research is on migraine) or as a daily preventive. Since I have (had!) migraines every day, I hoped for both. Not only did I experience diminishing returns of acute relief, I never noticed a preventive effect. Stopping it did not increase my migraine frequency, severity or duration.

I’ve heard from about a dozen of you who tried the Cefaly. No one reported relief even as significant as I had early on and half couldn’t use the device because the sensation in their foreheads was unbearably painful. The Daily Headache readers tend to have chronic and/or severe chronic disorders, so we’re unlikely to be a representative sample. Maybe it’s less effective for people with more severe headache disorders or our propensity toward more significant allodynia (sensitivity to touch) makes it more painful than normal. (If you’re worried it will be painful for you, see if someone you know has a TENS unit you can try. The Cefaly is different than a standard unit in its electrode shape and preset programs, but you’ll get an idea of what it feels like.)

Do I rescind my recommendation? Somewhat surprisingly, no. As long as it’s in your budget (it is returnable, but you’ll be out shipping to and from Canada and a 20% restocking fee), I say go for it. We all respond to different treatments and several headache specialists have told me that even a 10% response rate in early research is encouraging. If you want to explore nerve stimulation without invasive surgery, want a drug-free treatment or haven’t had much luck with standard treatments, the Cefaly is, at the very least, worth a try.

I still have mine and will try it again soon. I’m hopeful that a few months without it will be a sort of reset.

13 Responses to Cefaly for Migraine: Diminishing Returns & No Long-Term Relief

  1. Hennie Duits says:

    I’m probably repeating myself, but – any therapy/treatment that doesn’t respect the fact that you and your migraine are a unity will not hold. You and your migraine are not two separate things. Your migraine is part of what you are, part of your overall, total picture. If a treatment leaves ‘you’ out of the picture, the ‘soil’ on which the migraine grows will let it grow back, and the roots of it grow deep.

  2. Vibi says:

    Hi Kerrie.

    I’ve tried the Cefaly for about 5 months, and I had the same experience as you. My expectations were not very high, but living with chronic migraine, I’m always hoping for a new treatment that will work for me! Well, not this time either…
    It would be great to have effect from a treatment that didn’t give bad side-effects, and in that sence, testing out the Cefaly is worth a try!

    • Interesting. I’m sorry you didn’t get long-term relief from it either. A company representative emailed me after reading this post and said I was the first person she’d heard of who had diminishing returns. Even though the effects didn’t last, I’m also glad I tried it.

  3. Larissa says:

    I have a cefaly, and have used it on and off for 1 year now. I find it’s really helpful with my tension headaches (doesn’t get rid of them, but provides some relief), and as long my migraine is not too full blown it can provide a nice distraction from the pain. It’s weird how my forehead keep buzzing afterwards though for a good 20 minutes after I turn it off!

  4. Timothy Bauer says:

    Kerrie:

    Thanks for all the info you have shared. I have checked in archives and seen your previous info on cefaly. Based on what you know now-and of course love if fellow migraine sufferers chip in. Where do you think the best online places to purchase this item are? And of course possible
    return policy if device does not work. I noticed Costco sells item online-but many persons don’t have Costco card. Amazon does not sell the item at all. Do you still recommend sites listed in prior postings? I notice that the cefaly.com website charges more than what can purchase item at other sites. Of course if going to direct website of Cefaly itself can purchase item-but notice the seem to charge a premium. Kerrie-I have read previous articles you have posted on Cefaly-just wanted to see if you or readers have new information on possible superior websites to purchase Cefaly. Thanks again for what you do.

    • Hi Timothy,

      Just saw this — sorry for the delayed reply. The short answer is that Cefaly.us is the only place to buy it in the U.S. and they have a 60-day return period if you aren’t satisfied with it.

      The longer answer: Costco in the U.S. doesn’t carry it. Costco Canada sells them, but does not ship to the U.S. The Canadian distributor used to ship to the U.S., but a company representative has told me that is longer the case.

      Kerrie

  5. Marie says:

    Hi Kerrie – Thanks for posting this! I wish you would have experienced the relief that I have with Cefaly. It’s like night and day. My migraines are so much better! When I get one now I’m beside myself wondering how I dealt with it almost every day before. I hope you do indeed try again and that your migraines drastically improve!

    • I’m glad to hear it is helping you so much! I’d love to know more about your experience so I can share a success story with others. I’m sending you an email with a bunch of questions.

      Kerrie

  6. Tim Fischer says:

    I am looking into treatment options for my wife, as she has stopped topomax. When I went to the cephaly site, they state that they are not taking orders from the USA. Does anyone know where we can get one to try out?
    Thank you.

  7. Pat Donovan says:

    I love my cefaly! I had every other day and sometimes daily migraines. Tried every ‘preventative’ known. Tried botox, acupuncture, that proceedure that cooks certain nerves to brain, herbs, and the list goes on and on. From the first day, the cefaly has been a miracle for me. 3 migraines in almost 6 weeks! I have all my toes and fingers crossed after reading here. It planted seed that maybe any day it will stop working. I’ll kill myself.

    • Pat,

      I’m so glad it has been helpful for you. Remember that this is only my experience and I didn’t have great success with it to begin with. If it does stop working as effectively, your doctor may be able to help you figure out a different way to use it (for a shorter duration or at a different time of day, for example).

      Kerrie

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