Getting Relief from Your Migraine May be Easier than You Thought

If you struggle with migraine, you’re most likely frustrated by the lack of effective treatment you’ve received. Don’t worry though, because you’re in good company. Less than half of people with migraine are happy with the care they’ve received. Why could that be?

Well, migraine – despite accounting for 10% of primary care visits – is one of the most poorly treated diagnoses in the medical system. On average, only four hours of education in medical school are dedicated to treating headaches. Considering migraine is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined, the minimal amount of education dedicated to it is a bit out of proportion.

At Resilience RX, we have personal (unfortunately, gotta love all those concussions Dr. Sarah had) and professional experience with migraine. We get how frustrating it is, how hard a solution can be to find, and how much relief answers can bring. Because of that, we’re going to skip the who, what, when, where, and why about migraine and get straight to the solutions we’ve found to be effective.

The Glass Analogy

While migraine is a neurological phenomenon, it can be contributed to or triggered by multiple different causes. Similar to how a glass of water will overflow when too much water is poured into it, the human body can experience pain when it is under too much stress.

Water (or stress) can take on many different forms. It can be physical stressors such as neck pain, TMJ (jaw) irritation, or a heavy workout. Emotional stressors can be stress and sleep disturbances. Menstruation, food, and genetic predispositions can be important factors to consider as well. The goal then, is to reduce stress so that the glass of water is less likely to overflow (migraine is less likely to occur).

Removing Physical Stress to Help Migraine

Three different areas of the body that contribute to migraine headaches are the neck, the mid-back, and the small muscles at the base of the skull. Below we’ve included a different exercise or treatment strategy for each of these areas.

However, we do want to emphasize that not everyone’s migraine is the same. Therefore, what works for someone (or even most people) may not work for you. That doesn’t mean relief isn’t possible; but it does mean you may need a more personalized approach.

Treating the Neck

Treating the Mid Back

Treating the Small Muscles

For this, take two tennis balls and push them into the end of a long sock. Tie the sock off where the tennis balls end. Then, lay on the floor and place the two tennis balls at the base of your head. Lay here for up to five minutes, just letting the muscles on the bottom of your skull sink into the tennis balls. You may need to hold it in place with your hands and that is okay.

How can PT help a Migraine?

Beyond trialing and modifying exercises, hands-on physical therapy treatment can be very helpful in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine. Some of these treatments include dry needling (suboccipitals, sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius), neck and mid-back manipulation, and neck and mid-back mobilization.

migraine dry needling

Finding Your Migraine Trigger

Addressing and resolving physical deficits to improve migraine headaches are important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We encourage clients who have migraines to keep a diary of the triggers listed below. These are all factors that have been identified in research to ‘trigger’ migraine. Most clients typically find more than one trigger present. Identifying these triggers is important because it allows you to manage the trigger. When triggers are properly managed, migraine frequency can reduce and life can feel a lot easier.

  • Stress
  • Too much/little sleep
  • Odors
  • Missing meals
  • Menstruation
  • Alcohol
  • Foods
  • Weather
  • Caffeine
  • Bright light
  • Loud noise

What’s Realistic to Expect for Improvement?

The very short answer to that is it depends on a wide variety of factors. Obvious factors are migraine frequency, length of time you’ve struggled with migraine, and commitment to treatment. What is important to know is that simply because you have not yet had relief doesn’t mean that relief isn’t possible. The sad reality is that most doctors simply are not well equipped to handle or treat migraine.

There’s a lot more to migraine than what we discussed above, so if you’ve tried these strategies and you aren’t getting relief, it’s not because you can’t find it. Sometimes physical therapy and environmental modifications aren’t enough and medication is necessary. When that’s the case, it’s important to get to a doctor who has specific migraine training so you can get what you truly need. Regardless, improvement is possible if you want to pursue it.

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