A headache lasting between 4 and 72 hours, a throbbing pain in the head, light sensitivity, nausea…. If you have experienced any of these symptoms you know I’m talking about migraines. A debilitating condition that affects over 4.9 million Australians and can leave you missing out on work and social events . In light of Migraine Awareness Month, I will be discussing migraines, what causes them and some ways that you can treat them.
What is a migraine?
Migraine is a pervasive neurological affliction that can cause intense headaches, queasiness, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Women experience it more frequently than men due to hormones , but people of all ages may be subject to its effects - from young children to adults in their 40s. With no known cure as of yet, migraine sufferers must rely on medications and healthy habits to control flare-ups and restore balance in their lives. On the bright side, new developments are continually being made with regards to treatments and better comprehension of this multifaceted condition.
What causes migraines?
Migraines can be attributed to a variety of biological and environmental causes. The precise origin remains unknown, but current research points towards a hyper-excitable brain stem and trigeminovascular networks, as well as an abundance of active neurotransmitters in the brain . Such neurotransmitters are responsible for mediating hunger, alertness, stress levels and more - causing premonitory signs like food cravings or poor sleep .
Migraine pain is typically a result of swelling and inflammation in the blood vessels, which can be treated with medications like beta blockers or NSAIDs. Though we understand the chemical events that happen during a migraine, why some people suffer from them and not others is still unknown. However, certain risk factors have been identified, like a family history of migraines (90%), being female due to hormones (2x more likely), and experiencing depression or anxiety as comorbidities. Childhood abuse has also been connected to increased likelihood of having migraines - physical, emotional and sexual trauma all play into one's cognitive and psychological development which can lead to headaches. Emotional maltreatment has especially shown an association with severe headaches .
Migraines can cause excruciating pain, from moderate to severe, in the head and neck area. A staggering 11% of people all over the world suffer from them; 1% experience them chronically [6,7]. Migraine attacks may last anywhere between four and 72 hours with a pulsing sensation that is usually limited to one side of the head. For about 60% of sufferers, migraines come along with a prelude known as an aura – consisting of vision or hearing issues, queasiness and throwing up . Those who have had a migraine episode may also be subject to post-attack effects such as weariness, emotional distress, mental fogging and neck discomfort.
Migraines are believed to be the result of a combination of several factors such as genetics, environmental triggers, and changes in the brain’s chemical balance. Genetics play a significant role in the susceptibility of individuals to migraines. If one or both parents suffer from migraines, then their child is likely to have them too .
Environmental triggers can also be a factor for those that suffer from migraines. Factors such as stress, bright lights, lack of sleep, and certain foods can trigger migraines. Women may also experience hormone-related migraines during times of menstrual fluxuation or menopause. Finally, biochemical imbalances within the brain play a role in the onset of migraines .
Once you have identified your migraine triggers, it's time to look into treatments that work best for you. There are many different types of treatments out there that have been proven effective in relieving migraine pain. These include medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes.
Medications such as Triptans, Ergotamines, NSAIDs, and Anti-Nausea Drugs are all frequently used to treat acute migraine episodes . However, they do not prevent future occurrences and should only be taken when needed as they can cause side effects and increase the risk of overdose if taken too frequently or at too high doses.
Medications are the usual go-to for migraines, but many find their side effects too unbearable to manage. As such, some turn to alternative methods of coping with migraine episodes in an effort to reduce pain and lessen the occurrences. Over 75% of those with migraine have neck pain associated with it and may even contribute to the condition . Holistic approaches aimed at targeting musculoskeletal issues could potentially provide relief from these seemingly endless bouts of migraines .
Massage Therapy is particularly beneficial in decreasing the frequency, severity and length of migraine episodes . Manual techniques like reflexology and MT procedures for trigger point treatment plus manual lymphatic draining are used for quick relief from migraines . This aims at reducing the tightness and stiffness in the muscles in the neck and increasing range of motion of the neck. This can help to improve posture which is a common cause of headaches . Massages can also induce relaxation which can help with migraines that are triggered by stress.
Spinal manipulation from a chiropractor has been proven to decrease pain linked to migraines but some caution must be taken with the neck . The idea behind this is that many ailments come from the misalignment of your spine and the pressing of nearby nerves, which can impact how our muscles and veins work. Special manual techniques attempt to put these out-of-place bones back in order .
Physiotherapy can also be beneficial as the physio identifies the structures of the neck and how they are working [11,12]. If some muscles are overactive or underactive the physio will identify this and give you some exercises to correct this. This will help to correct bad posture and reduce the intensity and frequency of the headaches.
It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to treating migraines. Everyone’s experience with migraines is different, so what works for some may not necessarily work for others. It is important to take into consideration individual variability when choosing treatment options – what works for someone else may not be right for you!
Speak with your doctor or healthcare provider (chiropractor, physiotherapist or massage therapist) about which treatments would be best suited for you so they can provide guidance on the best course of action. No one should have to suffer through debilitating headaches caused by migraines without relief! So if you are suffering from frequent migraines, don’t despair – there are many treatments available that may help ease your pain and make life more manageable again.
Don’t forget: Migraine Awareness Month is here, so take this opportunity to come into Back in Motion Cranbourne and talk about your condition and possible treatment options today!
 Deloitte Access Economics, 2018, Migraine in Australia Whitepaper. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/migraine-australia-whitepaper.html
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