Migraines: Not all just in your head

It may start innocently enough with a little bit of irritability here, a sparkle in the peripheral vision there. Creeping up like a slow malaise, the discomfort gets larger until it engulfs the entire body. The presence of light and sound suddenly become an unbearably amplified enemy while nausea overtakes the gut, making the entire body queasy and weak. A pain under the eye begins as a dull ache then escalates to an intense throbbing. Is it a jackhammer splitting the mind or is the brain too big for the skull? An answer isn’t even possible as waves of disorientation overtake everything and piecing together a thought becomes too much. If you’re lucky, you’ll be debilitated only for a few hours. If you’re like many others, a few days or a week. Take heart, you’re not descending into madness- you’re experiencing a migraine.

In the United States, nearly 12% of the population suffers from migraines. This is roughly 38 million American men, women and children. If that statistic blows you away, then you may be surprised to learn that migraines are considered the 6th most disabling illness worldwide! Yep, you read that right- migraines are a global scale problem. Unfortunately for migraine sufferers, very little is understood about what causes them, and they are commonly misdiagnosed and under-treated. Researchers have identified over 13 distinct types of migraines, including child-specific manifestations. Genetic links are being found within families, but environmental factors are also being studied.

Experiencing a migraine is an unforgettable and excruciating full body attack. Not only do migraines have massive dilation of the blood vessels of the head, but there is also indication that brain chemicals and nerve pathways are intricately woven into the mix. Which means that in addition to often prolonged, severe head pain, it is also a compilation of devastating neurological symptoms, which can include vomiting, nausea, vision problems, extreme sensitivities to light, smell, touch and sounds, numbness, tingling and dizziness. Migraines can attack one or both sides of the head, and have varying degrees of intensity from one side to the other, and can last anywhere from 4 hours to a week or more. Some sufferers get migraine attacks a couple of times a month, but more than 4 million people have at least 15 migraines a month. This means a lot of time lost at work, with friends and family, and a lot of time spent feeling in pain and unwell. As with any chronic pain issue, this can also lead to a decreased quality of life and an onset of other emotional issues.

Here in Fort Collins, I see many people who chronically suffer from migraines. Research is confirming that massage is incredibly beneficial for alleviating the devastating pain of migraines. I have found that an integrative approach yields a lot of great results, and many clients experience either a reduction in frequency or a reduction in intensity of the migraines. By using cold treatments, heated towels and point-specific face, neck and shoulder work in-between migraine attacks, clients can achieve better sleep at night, increased mobility in neck and shoulders, decrease in muscle spasms and and overall increase in well-being. Less muscle tension means less pressure on blood vessels and nerves, and potentially less triggers for an attack.

Working with migraines is individual to each client. Some clients can benefit from aromatherapy, while others may not, depending on specific triggers. There can be contraindications for massage, such as profuse vomiting with headaches, or a sudden onset of new, more intense symptoms that may be indicative of a more severe condition. It is always recommended that a new client consult with a primary care physician to be cleared for massage therapy before proceeding with therapeutic massage. Once deemed as an appropriate complementary therapy, massage can be extremely beneficial self-care in between migraine attacks. Many clients find that they go for longer stretches of time between migraines, or find faster relief from “migraine hangover” once a bout has occurred. Massage is also helpful in alleviating the anxiety and stress that can come from being in chronic pain. Either way, there is a lot to be said for having a greater peace of mind, both literally and figuratively.

Read more in depth information from the Migraine Research Foundation for clinical research, resources and facts. https://migraineresearchfoundation.org

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