We’ve all experienced a really bad headache at some point in our lives.  But what if you were having a real head-splitter three or four times a week?

The good folks at the Salisbury VA in North Carolina might have discovered a cure for all that pain.

Oh What a Relief It Is

“One of my patients told me about this new device that was approved by the FDA in 2014,” said Dr. Alton Bryant, a neurologist at Salisbury.  “I’ve been prescribing it for about six months now.  I think it’s a solid treatment, certainly as good as our standard migraine medicines.”

So what the heck is it, anyway, and how does it work?

“It’s a futuristic-looking device that you place on your head, like a metallic headband,”   Bryant explained. “It sends electrical impulses back into your brainstem, where they interrupt your pain circuits.  You need to wear it every day for at least 20 minutes.  You can wear it more than that, if you want, but 20 minutes is the minimum. “

He added:  “Using electrical impulses to control pain is called neuromodulation and it’s a big focus in medicine right now.”

The mysterious device goes by the name of Cefaly –pronounced Sef-a-lee— and looks like it was beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.

“I call it my ‘Geordi device,’ because that’s what it looks like,” said Marine Corps Veteran Rodney Harrington. (Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, blind since birth, was the chief engineering officer on the USS Enterprise. He wore a special visor that enabled him to ‘see.’)

“I was kind of skeptical, but I gave it a try,” Harrington said.  “I went from having two to four migraines a week to having maybe two per month.  It really works.  I usually wear it in the afternoon or evening.  It’s very calming.  It’s kind of a good way to end the day.”

“I’ve had migraines for 20 years, and this is the first thing that’s really made a difference for me.”

Zombie Land

Harrington, 44, said his Geordi device is a welcome alternative to the various pills he was taking daily to control his pain.

“The meds I was taking would make me feel like a zombie,” he said. “I call them knock-out pills.  But this thing just relaxes me.  And it’s small and lightweight, so whenever I go out of town I just throw it in my bag and take it with me.

“I haven’t taken my meds in quite some time now,” he added, “so this has definitely been a benefit.  I’ve had migraine problems for 20 years and this is the first thing that’s really made a difference for me.”

“It’s a preventative,” observed Dr. Alton Bryant.  “And like any migraine preventative it will work extremely well for some people, moderately well for others, and not well at all for some.  I can say it’s been beneficial for most of my patients.  Well over half my patients have a moderate to very good response.”

Only half?  So why doesn’t it work for everyone?

“That’s true of any treatment,” said the neurologist. “That’s why we have 10 different pills for epilepsy.  That’s why we have so many different kinds of blood pressure medications. Everyone’s different, and everyone will respond to a given treatment differently.”

Bryant said migraines are the single biggest reason people visit a neurologist.  “More people see a neurologist for migraines than dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have Cefaly as an optional treatment, because here at VA we’re trying to avoid prescribing meds whenever possible.

“You always have to worry about your patients not taking their meds correctly,” the neurologist continued, “so we’re always open to trying alternatives like Cefaly. Because even when your patients take their meds correctly, there’s always side effects or interactions with other meds they’re taking.  Side effects can add up.  But when you use electrical impulses to prevent pain, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”

A female sits while a male doctor places the migraine device on her.

Army Veteran Brenda McClennaham gets acquainted with neuromodulation with a little help from Dr. Alton Bryant, a neurologist at the Salisbury VA in North Carolina.

No Cure-All

“I was taking a lot of over-the-counter pain killers,” said another of Bryant’s patients, 53-year-old Randy Stegall.  “And some of the prescription meds I was taking made me feel funny.  I won’t say this new device is a cure-all, but it’s given me a lot of relief.  You have to get used to the sensation, though.  It kind of puts you in a very relaxed state.  It’s almost like meditating.  You might not want to drive a car or operate heavy machinery right after using it.”

Stegall, an Army Veteran, said the Cefaly device has only one notable drawback.

“When you first see it, you have to refrain from making a comical remark about it,” he laughed. “It’s definitely different-looking.  When I put it on, I just tell people I’m going to take a few minutes to shock my brain and I’ll be right back.”

Different looking though it might be, but Cefaly appears to have had a distinct impact on the quality of Stegall’s life.

“It’s reduced the amount of meds I’m taking,” he said. “When you’ve had a headache for 14 days, you’re willing to try anything to get relief, and this thing works.  If you’re having issues with headaches, it’s worth a try.  It’s a comfort, having it here, knowing I can use it whenever I need it.”

Six on the Richter Scale

“Initially, in the doctor’s office, it felt kind of funny,” said 49-year-old Army Veteran Mark Brooks. “I didn’t think I would like it.  But I wanted to give it a fair shot.   So I took it home and kept using it. My migraines are real severe, but when I started using it consistently I stopped getting the severe ones as much.

“If my migraines were at a 10, they’re probably at a six now,” he added. “Six is better than ten.”

Brooks said his pain never really goes away, which is why he’s on three different medications in addition to his daily Cefaly treatment.  He said he hopes the science of neuromodulation continues to advance so that perhaps one day he can be pain free.

“When I first started getting migraines, back in the 90s, I felt there was no way I could live with it,” he said. “The pain was so severe.  I felt like maybe I had a tumor or something and that I was going to die.  But now I feel like there’s more hope for me.”

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Published on Apr. 7, 2016

Estimated reading time is 5.7 min.

Views to date: 527


  1. Patrick jahnke April 20, 2016 at 11:08 am

    U know I went to cc the people deal headaches! Madison va had no knowledge about it I may wait 2 month or send me pain clinic which they refused to cc me last time paper work put in she had talk to her boss, green doctor in n training I don’t know, then my primary doc moved on , told got new one but can’t cc her until August, what does a veteran do know, who do I call for help? Back in same boat 2yrs ago.

  2. Frank Montijo April 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    I got them all my life. Back in the early 1950 I had a Dr. give Cansert. this took care of it. I was living in Greeley, CO. than we moved to Denver & my new Dr. put me on Dilanten. This was the worst thing he could do for me.

  3. Jeffrey Lee Morganstern April 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    How do I get this??
    I have had really bad migraines sence the gulf war!!
    It has taken me 25 years and a ton of doctors visits, for the va to admit that’s were they all started!! In 2014 they finally admitted it and gave me 30 percent disability! So for all those years of paying co pays, I think I deserve one!
    Thank you for reading!

  4. J P Gilligan April 15, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    I suspect there are many causes and types of migraine. I began getting them shortly before I started wearing glasses. In my case, it began with my peripheral vision diminishing until I could only see a small patch in the middle of my field of vision and that was covered with spots and sparkles, so I was nearly blind. When my vision began to return to normal I would get a headache that threatened to blow the top of my head off. I discovered I could shorten the process if I jumped in a cold shower at the beginning. I would still get the head splitting headache but the process start to finish was much shorter. After I started wearing glasses at age 14 the migraines were much less frequent, so in my case they must be vision related. That long winded explanation was only to illustrate that since migraines come in different forms, no one treatment will work for all.
    I am interested in knowing if Cefaly has other uses however. As for the device looking strange, just incorporate it into a hat – problem solved.

  5. Maria Coder April 15, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Hi everyone – I am the public relations person for Cefaly in the USA. The website for Cefaly is http://www.cefaly.us and you’ll find stories in our blog from other veterans using the device ( http://www.cefaly.us/blog/category/veterans ), as well as other patients, and a lot of clinical data and published studies. Cefaly is non-invasive and not a drug, but it does require a prescription… so if you’re thinking about using it, please ask your doctor about it. If you have any questions, please get in touch and I will have the answer or get it for you. My email is m.coder [at] cefaly.us (remember to replace [at} with @). Maria

  6. Fabric April 15, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Really great approach of treatment for migraine suffering people. Preventative medications didn’t really help. This Cefaly is helping peoples. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Denise Landon April 14, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I’m a vet, I suffer from severe migraines. I wonder if this device is available at the Long Beach VA ….?

  8. Tara Trammel April 11, 2016 at 2:06 am

    will these be available at the fort harrison va?

  9. Ken Neely April 10, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Any application for Parkinson’s Disease?

  10. Jan McClintock April 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I wish you would add the link for this device in the article. It’s here: http://www.cefaly.us/en

  11. Debby rollins April 10, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Do I just ask my Dr. about getting one?

  12. Edward Bennett April 10, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Does the device work as good as the botox shots for migraines ? I would get migraines that would last for up to 2 weeks at a time every month, I get the botox shots now every 3 months and I have no migraines in between !

  13. Michael McLaughlin April 9, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Is the Cefaly available in or near Midland, MI.

  14. Glenn E Bell April 9, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I hope to get my neurology MEDS moderated if I can get this treatment from my private neurologist. I had daily migraines rate 10 to 6 every day. I can’t recall my last migraine free day since 1987. Mine are trama induced. I was hit by a drunk sitting at a red light. I also was hit head on by a 13 year old driving a car he stole just prior to hitting me.

  15. wayne gilbert April 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    How do I get that device?

  16. Lisa Bear April 9, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    We are going to check Portland VA ASAP!!!!! My hubby needs relief so desperately!!! :(

    • Jason Farrington April 12, 2016 at 10:33 pm

      Did the Portland, OR VA offer this?

  17. Vera Royce April 9, 2016 at 7:42 am

    I need to see about this, if there is even a chance it can help with my migraines…

  18. Mike trudelle April 8, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    I need this at adem benjemin,croun point in. thankyou!

  19. James C Gregerson April 8, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I am a Korean veteran suffering from PTSD and starting about 6-7 mobnths ago I have been having headache in the top rear of my head. Is this a Migrain headach? If so how can I get the device?

  20. alan mcdonough April 8, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Do they have these at the Tampa VA ?

    • Beth Dodds April 9, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      Have a VA neurologist order one for you. They come in the mail directly from the company along with enough electrodes to last a year. It really does help.

  21. Thomas Rockford April 7, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    We owe our veterans everything. I’m pretty biased in this because both my parents are veterans. My dad is a disabled vet and suffers from severe back pain everyday. Some days are better than others. So it breaks my heart and fills me with anger when someone says that we don’t owe our veterans, that they volunteered for it. They are 100% wrong. Maybe a 60 billion dollar budget is a little much, but our system for helping veterans is full of holes letting money slip away being wasted. We fix that we fix/help the issue of people resenting all the money going to veteran programs. Whenever someone joins the military they are excepting the fact that at any given point they could be called to give their life for this country and us. They served us a knowing that, now it’s our turn to serve and honor them as veterans.

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