About 15% of the world’s population suffers from migraine headaches. In the United States, that amounts to over 35 million people, with more than 3 million people experiencing migraines chronically. Women are three times more likely than men to feel the pain of migraine headaches.
Could your headaches be classified as migraines? There are four classic phases to a migraine attack, though not all four phases may be present in each migraine episode; symptoms vary between people and even from one attack to the next.
1. Prodrome Phase: Subtle warnings that a migraine attack is on its way may be perceptible up to two days in advance. (eg., moodiness, sensitivity, fatigue, tension)
2. Aura Phase: In the moments before the onset of the headache, there may be some fleeting nervous system effects which appear gradually and last less than an hour. Auras can be visual (blind spots, flickering), sensory (pins-and-needles, numbness), or, less common, motor (speech disturbances).
3. Headache Phase: The most debilitating phase of the migraine is the headache, when pain can be so severe that it impacts a person’s ability to participate fully in their normal daily activities. This phase may last just a few hours, or it can continue for three days. During the headache phase, you may experience a throbbing or pulsating pain in your head, often predominantly on one side, along with nausea, light-headedness, or blurred vision.
4. Postdrome Phase: After the headache has come to an end, some of the secondary symptoms of the migraine episode may linger.
Many people who experience migraines can identify things that they feel trigger a migraine episode. While the strength of the relationship between these triggers and a migraine attack are not readily quantifiable, it is worth considering some of the more frequently reported triggers when developing your self-care plan: stress, certain foods, hormonal shifts, bright lights, strong smells, or jet lag.
If you are experiencing recurring, intense headaches, it is important to discuss your experiences with your Primary Care Physician. This condition can be episodic or chronic and your treatment plan will depend on your specific set of symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and help you develop a plan for managing your headaches.
Your migraine management plan may include wellness therapies from a wide variety of health professionals that effectively complement each other.
“Migraine sufferers often seek the quiet, dark and peaceful environment of the spa as a place to heal and recover. Therapeutic massage can be effective in alleviating and controlling the multiple stages of migraine. Through massage we can identify the hypertonic muscles that often exacerbate migraine symptoms (eg., suboccipitals, temporalis, and muscles of the neck) and ease tension with specific techniques like trigger point and myofascial release.”
– Neil Warden, Massage Therapist
“Headaches that originate in the muscles at the base of your skull or along your neck are termed “cervicogenic”, however, migraines specifically can come from a number of other issues. A physical therapist can help you determine if a headache is cervicogenic or if it is non-musculoskeletal; if muscle tension is the cause, a physical therapist can work with you to improve your posture, balance muscles on the front and back of your neck, and employ specific manual therapy techniques to reduce instances and severity of migraines that originate in the neck.”
– Trevor Hopkins, Doctor of Physical Therapy
“Nerves in the forehead release a variety of peptides and hormones which can stimulate pain and vasospasm. Botox has been found to have a therapeutic effect on tension and migraine headaches, and is more effective than traditional prescription therapies such as Imitrex.”
“Recent nutritional studies have been able to connect specific chemical compounds in foods to an increased risk of developing a migraine. A dietitian can work with you by creating a well-balanced meal plan that monitors for nutritional adequacies and food related migraine triggers.”
– Sarah Lawson, Dietitian
“Counseling can support migraine treatment by helping clients identify their individual triggers, decrease stress, and increase their relaxation skills in order to reduce their risk of having a migraine. It can also aid in development of healthy habit changes to decrease the frequency of some triggers.”
– Kelsey Anderson, Counselor
Written by Michelle Jellinghaus, Massage Therapist for The Spa at PRO Club