The purpose of this review is to summarize the role of avoidance behavior in headache-related disability and overview relevant clinical implications.
Avoidance occupies a central role in contemporary psychological perspectives on headache disorders and other chronic pain conditions. Several cognitive constructs of relevance to headache are influenced and maintained by avoidance behavior. A growing body of literature attests to the notion that avoidance of headache triggers, of stimuli that exacerbate headache, and of broader life domains can negatively affect headache progression, disability/quality of life, and comorbid psychiatric symptoms. Interventions targeting avoidance behavior, such as therapeutic exposure to headache triggers, mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), hold promise for headache disorders but need to be tested in larger trials. Researchers and clinicians are encouraged to attend to functional impairment as a critically important treatment outcome. Comprehensive understanding of headache disorders necessitates attention not merely to diagnostic symptoms and their reduction, but to patterns of avoidance behavior that inadvertently exacerbate headache and contribute to functional impairment.