Ann Jones tried everything short of surgery for her chronic migraines, which have plagued her since she was a child.
“They’ve actually gotten worse in my old age,” says Jones, who is 70 years old and lives in Tucson, Ariz.
Jones would have as many as two dozen migraines a month.
Over the years, some treatments might work initially, but the effects would prove temporary. Other medications had such severe side effects she couldn’t stay on them.
“It was pretty life-changing and debilitating,” Jones says. “I could either plow through them and sometimes I simply couldn’t.”
In 2018, her doctor mentioned a study that was taking place nearby at the University of Arizona: Researchers were testing if daily exposure to green light could relieve migraines and other kinds of chronic pain.
Jones was skeptical.
“This is going to be one more thing that doesn’t work,” she thought to herself.
But she brushed aside the hesitation and enrolled in the study anyway.
It began with her spending two hours each day in a dark room with only a white light, which served as the control. In the second half of the study, she swapped out the conventional light for a string of green LED lights.
For more than a month, Jones didn’t notice any change in her symptoms. But close to the six-week mark, there was a big shift.
She began going days in a row without migraines. Even when the headaches did come, they weren’t as intense as they had been before the green light therapy.
“I got to the point where I was having about four migraines a month, if that many, and I felt like I had just been cut free,” Jones says.
Some patients in the study of about 25 people noticed a change in just a few days. For others, it took several weeks. Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, the migraine study’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, says that on average, people experienced a 60% decrease in the intensity of their migraines and a drop from 20 migraines a month to about six.
The results of the migraine study aren’t published yet. But they build on a small but growing body of research suggesting a link between green light and pain, including animal research done by Ibrahim’s team. While there are not yet robust data on humans, some researchers see promise for a drug-free approach that could help with migraines and possibly other forms of chronic pain.