Migraines – more than just a headache
Migraines – any one who suffers will tell you they are so much more than “just” a headache. Intense, throbbing pain, sometimes on one side, sufferers are often unable to continue with their everyday lives. Patients often end up on regular medication with indifferent effectiveness. But, there is another option . . . . .
Some people experience symptoms before a migraine attack called an aura.
- flashing lights, zigzag patterns or blind spots in your vision
- stiffness, a tingling sensation or pins and needles in your neck or shoulders
- feeling disoriented or off balance
- difficulty speaking
- poor concentration
As well as pain for up to 72 hours, some people have nausea and an increased sensitivity to light, sound or smells during a migraine.
What causes a migraine?
There are a number of foods (cheese, wine, chocolate .. . .) that have a reputation as “triggers” for migraines. High blood pressure, smoking and even sleeping tablets also get the blame.
But what if it isn’t anything you ate that’s causing the problem?
Recent research suggests that neck issues are the major cause of migraines. Up to date analysis methods like PET scans and fMRI scans have shown that the previous view of migraines as a vascular issues (based on patients describing pain as “thumping”) is incorrect. They are a nerve issue (with an extra element of brain chemistry).
So migraines should be primarily treated as a “mechanical” problem. As Professor Andrew Charles of Migraine and Headache Science at the University of California Los Angeles explains in this podcast (with transcript), “we had all thought that migraine came in through the trigeminal nerve or was mediated by input from the face. But now there’s really growing recognition that the occipital nerve, the upper cervical nerve routes may actually be playing an equally important role and many, many migraine patients get neck pain either before, during or after their attack they have soreness and stiffness in their neck.” (he goes on to talk about the medication he’s developing as well as physical therapy).
Now we know that migraines are caused by nerve irritation, normally the trigeminal or occipital nerve. As I have discussed before all nerves run through the neck so any muscle constriction or tension in the neck will place strain on these nerves which, when combined with other triggers causes a migraine. Resolve the neck problem, reduce the irritation and therefore reduce the likelihood of a migraine.
In fact recent research suggests that physical treatment is just as effective as medication in treating migraines. And, unlike medication, doesn’t need to be constantly administered.
One word of warning – be careful as treatment must be gentle. Your practitioner must be experienced and qualified as it is common to trigger a migraine during manual treatment and they must be able to turn the migraine off!
So I can eat chocolate?!
Triggers are layers of irritation. The first layer is the nerve irritation/neck problem. Then you combine that with factors such as stress, poor posture or injury. The chocolate (or wine or cheese or . . . ) is then the straw that broke the camel’s back – NOT the true cause at all.
Fix the neck and enjoy your chocolate, wine, cheese . . . . enjoy your life.