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Migraine Awareness Week | migraine treatment

The truth about migraines.

Migraines can sometimes be misunderstood as just a bad headache but it’s not the case. here’s the truth about migraines.  They are a terrible complex neurological condition that can cause a variety of symptoms such as severe pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. At the most basic level, migraine is a type of sensory processing disorder caused by having a hyper-reactive brain. Your genetics make your brain work faster, react faster, and sometimes over-react when it is exposed to too much stimulation, known as a trigger. This over-reaction is then what we know as a migraine attack.

Did you know that June is Migraine Awareness Month? Currently there are approximately 4.9 million Australians living with a migraine, but do we really understand the impact migraines can have? The aim of Migraine Awareness Month is to raise awareness and reduce the stigma that a migraine is ‘just a headache’. Those who suffer migraines know just how debilitating they can be and the significant impact they can have on our daily lives.

Migraine attacks is the name used when migraine symptoms occur in bursts. Most migraine attacks will commonly last between 4-72 hours. These attacks can significantly vary between individuals, some may experience them weekly, and others go years without an attack.

A migraine is not just a headache!

Sometimes it’s thought that a migraine is just a bad headache, but if you suffer them you know the level of disability they cause during an active stage. So what is the difference between them?

Types and Causes of Common Headaches

As there are a number of different types of headache, by identifying the location and nature of your pain can help determine the cause & type.

Some of the most common types include:

  • Tension headaches: The pain from tension headaches spreads across both sides of the head, often starting at the back and creeping forward. It may also be felt like a band around your skull, squeezing in.  This is the most common form of headache pain. Eyestrain, stress and hunger are frequently causes of tension headaches, and they can be chronic.
  • Sinus headaches: These often happen when you’re sick or feeling congested. They’re caused by swelling in the sinus passages (the hollow spaces in the skull), resulting in pain behind the cheeks, nose and eyes. The pain is often as its worst when you wake up on the morning and can be particularly bad when you bend forward.
  • Cluster headaches:  are usually very painful and occur in “clusters,” meaning they happen daily (usually at the same time), sometimes up to several times per day for months. They are experienced due to dilation in the blood vessels of the brain from the release of 2 chemicals, serotonin and histamines. They may also be caused by physical exertion, bright lights or even altitude.
  • TMJ headache: When the jaw is under stress with it’s connection point to the skull (the TMJ or tempormandibular joint), tension can build throughout the muscles in the skull and jaw causing a headache that is often felt in the morning on waking, and often felt into the eye itself.

How are Migraines different to headaches?

When compared with tension or other headache types like those listed above, migraine pain can be moderate to severe. Migraines attacks may be felt so severely that the sufferer seeks assistance from an emergency department.

Migraine episodes will typically affect only one side of the head. This doesn’t mean migraines cannot occur in both sides of the head simultaneously, or that it can swap side-to-side. However, it’s possible to have a migraine episode that affects both sides of the head. Other differences include the pain’s quality. A migraine attack will cause intense pain that may be throbbing and will make performing daily tasks very difficult.

Common Migraine Symptoms

Some of the most common symptom’s migraine suffers face include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Dizziness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Severe pain or throbbing
  • Neck, head, or face pain inc. sinus pain and ear pain
  • Headaches (remember a migraine is not just a headache)

What triggers a Migraine?

A migraine trigger is the term used to describe what started the cascade of events that end in a migraine attack. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to identify your migraine triggers and they may vary between attacks.

Here’s a list of the common migraine triggers identified:

  • Dehydration – mild dehydration can impact migraine attacks; however, individuals may crave water in the initial phases of an attack.
  • Caffeine – too much caffeine can contribute to the onset of a migraine attack or sometimes even stopping caffeine all together.
  • Exercise – exercise induced migraines are common in approximately one third of sufferers. High impact activity or sudden bursts of physical exertion can often result in these migraine attacks.
  • Although exercise can be a migraine trigger, it is also an important part of migraine management and looking after your overall health. It has been recommended to work alongside a health professional to determine the right type and amount of activity for you.
  • Sleep – too much or too little sleep can trigger a migraine attack. That is why it is important to have a good sleep routine.
  • Food related triggers – this can be caused by certain foods such as processed foods, cheeses, and types of alcohol or also from missed meals or insufficient food intake.
  • Stress – stressful events in life are often unavoidable, however, stressful events have been strongly linked with migraine attacks.
  • Hormonal – migraine attacks are commonly seen when there are large hormonal changes such as the beginning of puberty, menopause and in sync with menstrual cycles.

How to manage Migraines

Unfortunately, true migraines can’t be cured however you are able to manage your attacks to try and prevent them happening as often and so severely.

Migraine treatment plans often consist of:

  • Addressing lifestyle factors such as stress levels, identifying and avoiding migraine triggers.
  • One simple way to identify migraine triggers can include a migraine diary. This can include things such as the amount of sleep you got, activities throughout the day, stress levels, foods, and drinks you have had etc.
  • Medication – this can be discussed and reviewed with your GP to find the right medication for you to help manage your symptoms and prevent your attacks.
  • Hormone therapy – this may be considered if the migraine attacks seem to line up with your menstrual cycle.
  • Finding strategies to help manage your symptoms such as sitting in a quiet, dark room, sleeping, and staying hydrated.
  • Manual therapy to address any tension or restrictions found in the body.

How can Osteopathy assist with Migraines?

Although a migraine cannot be cured, it can be managed with a range of approaches. Each individual needs to work to find the right combination of lifestyle changes, acute treatment, and preventative treatment (if required) that works for them. Often acute treatment will involve hands on treatment such as osteopath to identify any areas of tension in the body or changes to spinal mechanics that might be contributing. Our skillset encompasses a range of treatment techniques including but not limited to soft tissue massage, joint manipulation, and joint mobilization. By reducing tension in the muscles and tissues, improving circulation and blood flow, and addressing any underlying structural issues, osteopathy can help alleviate migraine symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Craniosacral osteopathy is another treatment option for migraines. Check that our HERE.

Our osteopaths can also provide assistance in identifying any lifestyle triggers, provide at home advice and strategies and educate our patients on the difference between a headache and a migraine.

Book in today and work on some migraine management!

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