A migraine is a chronic neurological disorder where a person will suffer head pain on one side of their head. Migraines are usually described as a throbbing sensation, and are rarely classified as mild. Many people experiencing migraines will also experience nausea, and sensitivity to light or noise. For most people, a migraine attack will mean total disruption to their normal daily routine, and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
We don’t yet know exactly why certain people suffer from migraines. A leading theory at the moment is that they are caused by disruptions in the electrical signals travelling through certain parts of the brain, which causes certain cells to be released and irritate the brain.
A group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden published the first ever study into the effectiveness of physical exercise as a form of migraine prevention in 2011. They found that 40 minutes of exercise 3 times a week could be just as effective in preventing migraines as Topiramate, one of the leading anti-migraine medications, and was more effective than resting. This means that exercise could be used in conjunction with medication to achieve the maximum possible number of migraine free days. However, it is worth noting that for about 20% of people, exercise is actually a trigger for migraines, so this is not an option that is available to everyone.
Another leading theory regarding the cause of migraines is that they could be a form of cervicogenic headache, which means that the pain in the head is actually rooted in an issue in the neck. This is possible through a process known as referred pain, where a problem in one part of the body causes pain to manifest in another part. For example, a problem with the pancreas will often manifest as back pain. In the case of migraine, many experts now agree that they could be caused by problems with the upper cervical spine.
One issue with this is that everyone has a unique experience with migraines, so while some people may suffer from migraines as a result of a problem in their neck, others will feel pain in their neck as a symptom of their migraine. Therefore, the first step your doctor or physiotherapist will take is determining whether neck pain is a cause or symptom of your condition.
The good news is that, if neck pain is a contributing factor to your migraines, there are lots of different ways physiotherapy can help. If this is the case, the goal of the physiotherapy will be to reduce the amount of pain in the joints, muscles, and nerves of the neck, so that less pain is referred to the head. There are several different ways this can be done, with neck massages being one of the most common. Another option is dry needling, which uses needles to stimulate certain trigger points, with the aim of activating the muscles and nerves there, and promoting the flow of blood and lymph to the area, which will begin to fight the root of the issue, and make the area feel more relaxed.
Another option that has become increasingly popular in recent years is cupping therapy. This is a technique where suction cups are placed on various spots around the body, and either pulled off quickly or moved around in a massage-like manner. This also aims to promote the flow of blood and lymph, and while it does leave some rather shocking-looking bruises, the treatment is almost entirely pain free.
While it is very unfortunate for a person to suffer from frequent migraines, it is important to recognise that it is a chronic condition, and thus will not go away. For this reason, the best course of action is to tackle the problem early on, and start seeking treatment as early in life as possible. This will help you identify what treatment or combinations of treatments work best for you, and will hopefully reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraines, allowing you to resume normal life much quicker.