Migraines are a painful, disabling condition that impacts over 36 million people in the United States alone. The World Health Organization ranks migraines in the top 10 most disabling diseases on the planet. Living with migraines means more than pain and discomfort. Some migraine sufferers wait in fear of when the next attack will occur, which means that even during symptom-free times they must cope with anxiety and even alter their normal daily activities.
Migraines – Not Just a Bad Headache
For people who have never had to deal with a migraine episode, it may be easy to think that it’s just a terrible headache that will go away with rest and a couple of aspirin. However, the truth is that migraines are a neurologically-based condition that causes a host of other symptoms aside from severe head pain. There are also many types of migraine, and each can come along with its own set of issues. To understand the condition better, here are some things that migraine sufferers wished that those without them knew:
- The headache of a migraine isn’t always the most disabling symptom – the head pain associated with a migraine is probably the best-known symptom, but sometimes it’s the other symptoms that accompany a migraine attack that are the worst. Nausea, vomiting, vertigo, and light sensitivity can also take their toll during a migraine episode.
- Life must go on – for some chronic migraine sufferers, an episode can drag on for days or even weeks. Daily activities still need to get done, which sometimes means pushing through the pain to go to work, drop the children off at school, or even attend a social function. Sometimes lying in a dark, quiet room is not a viable option and sometimes a distraction from the pain (like getting out of the house or watching TV) is welcomed.
- Having a support team on our side helps to lighten the load – having friends or family members who can empathize with how debilitating a migraine can be is extremely helpful. Since migraines tend to run in families (about 90% have a family history of migraine), migraine sufferers often rely on parents, children, or siblings to help them through when the going gets tough. Emotional support should not be underestimated.
Common Migraine Treatment Options
Across most healthcare professions, migraines are considered an incurable but manageable health condition. Much of migraine management turns into the isolation of individual symptoms (I.e. headache, nausea). This is most commonly done using a combination of the following:
- Prescription medications – these typically fall into two categories, preventative (to minimize or prevent future episodes) or abortive (to try and halt an episode that is already happening). Many migraine sufferers are prescribed medications for “off-label” usage, like anti-convulsants or anti-depressants.
- Over-the-counter medications – OTC medications are usually for acute symptomatic relief and include things like Excedrin, Advil, or Motrin.
- Non-pharmaceutical options – certain vitamins, minerals, and botanicals might help with migraines. Some of the most commonly recommended might include magnesium, peppermint oil, and even caffeine.
Many migraine sufferers embark on a journey to try and identify potential triggers and discover the root cause of their condition. Finding an option that is both natural and provides results that are more than temporary is a common goal.
Migraines and your Spine
At the most basic level, your spine’s job is to protect the spinal cord. Your spinal cord is the network of nerves that carry signals to and from your brain. These signals are sent and received every second of your life – it makes no difference whether you are asleep or awake, young or old. An interruption in these signals can compromise your body’s ability to function normally. The upper cervical area of the spine, the area where your head and neck meet, should be of particular importance for migraine sufferers. Sitting at the junction between the head and neck is the atlas vertebra. The atlas bears the weight of the head and is also uniquely shaped to account for the freedom of movement we have to turn our heads in all directions. When the atlas misaligns, it can create pressure within the spinal cord and cause the messages going to and from the brain to be distorted. It can also interfere with blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid flow. Any of these factors can contribute to the myriad of migraine symptoms. This can also help to explain why migraines and neck pain often present together, or why neck pain can be a signal of a migraine about to occur.
Upper cervical chiropractic care focuses on this complicated area of the spine. Rather than take a generalized, one-size-fits-all approach, upper cervical chiropractic takes precise, detailed measurements for each patient. These analyses allow for customized adjustments to be made for each individual. Upper cervical adjustments themselves are different too – they are extremely gentle (no twisting, forcing, or popping required) and because of how precise they are, they tend to hold in place for longer periods of time. The longer the atlas can maintain its normal alignment, the more efficiently your body can heal. Realigning the atlas reduces tension on the spinal cord, allowing for normal brain-body communication to take place. Sometimes this is all that is needed to reduce or completely eliminate migraines.