Migraine Prevention and Treatment, the Natural Way
June is National Migraine Awareness Month. Migraines differ from headaches and can be disabling. A migraine is a neurological event and it often involves other parts of the body than the head. Not all migraine sufferers have headaches, although headache can be a symptom. A migraine is a disabling neurological disease with different symptoms and different treatment approaches compared to other headache disorders. The American Migraine Foundation estimates that at least 39 million Americans live with migraines, but because many people do not get a diagnosis or the treatment, the actual number is probably higher. Head pain can be moderate or severe and often intense. The pain may be hard to endure and may be unbearable. Some symptoms include:
The pain may be on one side of the head or both. It could be in the front or in the back or around the eyes and behind cheeks.
The pain causes a throbbing, pounding, or pulsating sensation.
The pain gets worse with physical activity or any movement.
You experience nausea and/or vomiting.
You are sensitive to light, noise and/or smells.
Your pain is severe enough to make you miss school, work or other activities - or it keeps you from being the best version of yourself when you do those activities.
Your migraine attack can last anywhere from four hours to several days.
Some individuals have migraine with aura. The most common type of aura is visual (flashes of light, blind spots, shapes or bright spots). An aura can also cause blurred vision or loss of vision. Typically, an aura occurs before the head pain of the attack begins, and fully resolves in an hour or less. Migraine can be classified as episodic or chronic. People with episodic migraine have 14 or fewer headache days per month. Individuals with chronic migraine experience more than 15 headache days per month (for three or more months) with at least eight that include migraine features from above. In some, episodic migraine can become chronic, which may happen if it’s not recognized and treated correctly.
There are four phases of a migraine attack: prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome. You don’t have to experience all the phases; only about 20% of people with migraine have an aura. Understanding the phases can help you manage the disease better. The prodrome and aura phases usually occur before the headache develops. Prodrome may precede the migraine attack by several hours or even days. Typical prodrome symptoms include extreme tiredness and yawning, irritability or moodiness, difficulty concentrating, and food cravings. About 75% of people with migraine experience a prodrome—but often they don’t recognize it as the beginning of an attack. Aura is rarer and usually begins just before the headache starts. Most people experience changes in their vision, while others notice tingling, numbness or trouble speaking. These symptoms can serve as a warning sign and allow you to take action or medication before the headache begins. Identifying and treating a migraine early can even help prevent further symptoms in some people. The headache phase of an attack typically involves pain on one or both sides of the head and lasts from several hours to three days but can also include nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to lights and noises. The final phase of an attack, called postdrome, is also sometimes called the “migraine hangover” and 80% of people with migraine experience it. Symptoms of postdrome include fatigue, body aches, trouble concentrating, dizziness and sensitivity to light.
Those of you who know me have heard my journey of finding a solution for chronic headaches and migraines. I have suffered with chronic migraine since my childhood with symptoms peaking in my early 40s that I attribute to cyclical changes with my menstrual cycle. According to the American Migraine Foundation, two-thirds of women have cyclical headaches that improve in menopause when estrogen levels out. I believe my migraine history started in childhood. I had more than one undiagnosed concussion, falling on my head on several different occasions, one requiring stitches in my eyebrow leaving a scar that I fill in everyday with an eyebrow pencil. I had my first aura while on birth control pills in my early 20s. Fortunately, I discontinued the use of synthetic hormones immediately and it may have prevented an early stroke since I later found out I had a blood clotting autoimmune disease called antiphospholipid syndrome. For many years, I woke up in the middle of the night with a severe headache on one side of my head which would require an icepack to return to sleep. While I continue to discover new approaches to healing, I have been able to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine symptoms significantly with lifestyle changes, including a strict diet and putting parameters on my home and work life.
Prevention of Migraines
I have learned that the best way to treat a migraine is to PREVENT a migraine. Remember the adage, "an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure"? I have experienced all of the migraine symptoms described above. With lifestyle changes and active prevention, my migraines are now episodic and less frequent. Getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and avoiding fatigue and exhaustion are simple strategies that I have learned to incorporate. In addition, I abstain from food and environmental triggers such as extreme heat or cold, mold or yeast and processed foods with a long list of ingredients. Night shades (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) are inflammatory for me so I avoid them along with gluten or crops sprayed with glyphosate (Round Up). Refined or artificial sugar consumption is an almost guaranteed migraine as well as monosodium glutamate (MSG) which means no aged cheese, Doritos or Diet Coke for me...ever! Now I could have continued a poor diet and taken prescription medication, but that would be like putting a bandage on the problem or covering up the check engine light with tape. The blessing is that I discovered my true health potential and made positive changes in my well-being, mentally and physically, and am able to share my personal and professional experiences to help others. In my search for answers, I discovered Integrative Dry Needling (IDN), using microfilament needles to reduce inflammation and address neurological dysfunction specifically of the occipital and trigeminal nerves. I have received chiropractic treatment and PT and orthodontia for TMJ. Recently, I have incorporated the use of silicone cups and essential oils in these nerve distributions where the nerves get trapped or inflamed.
Treatment of Migraines
As stated above, taking medication at the onset of an aura can substantially reduce and stop the progression of the other phases of migraine. However, there are natural remedies to accomplish this that do not carry the risk of side effects.
essential oils - at the onset of an aura, place peppermint essential oil (can be mixed in a carrier oil) on the base of the neck where it meets the spine (occipital nerve) and temples. This can be as effective as taking a nonsteroidal medication like Aleve or Ibuprofen.
warm lemon water - squeeze a half or full lemon into water every day preventatively or at the first sign of a migraine.
trigeminal nerve reset - cranial nerve V, known as the trigeminal nerve is often involved in individuals with migraine. This nerve originates in the brain stem and supplies sensation to the face, motor control to the jaw muscles responsible for chewing and biting and part of the tongue. Along with the other cranial nerves, it is a paired nerve with one on each side of the face. Place pressure on the end points of the nerve, with or without essential oils, until the pain decreases. These are also the same areas we dry needle for trigeminal nerve and migraines.
Migraine can also be linked to pelvic floor dysfunction via the tenth cranial nerve, the Vagus Nerve. Of the twelve cranial nerves that originate in the brain stem, the Vagus Nerve is the only cranial nerve that travels below the diaphragm. Many individuals we see have triad symptoms including migraine, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and fibromyalgia, which is why we treat using a holistic approach. When we address symptoms in the neck and head, we can positively influence the pelvic floor muscles and the entire body. More on the vagus nerve in a later blog.
Healthy Core physical therapists can evaluate and treat migraine along with pelvic floor dysfunction, eliminating the need to see multiple providers for related symptoms. Call (330)528-0034 to schedule an evaluation with one of our experts.