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The 5 Biggest Mistakes People make managing migraines

A recent study estimates that approximately 52% of the population are affected by headaches every year and about 15% suffer migraines, that’s about 1 in 6 people. Headaches and migraines are one of the most common presentations we see in practice and in addition, many of these patients have either seen their GP or presented to an emergency department to help relieve their pain. There are a number of mistakes we see people make when managing their headaches, here are the 5 most common.

1. Using medication to relieve pain, and then doing nothing else about it.

Pain killers (analgesics) such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, can be helpful for relieving migraines, especially when taken at the first sign of pain. However, they do little to resolve the underlying cause, or causes, of the migraines.

Simply masking the pain will lead to the problem returning because the underlying mechanism is still there. Not identifying the cause will leave migraine sufferers all but powerless to resolve the pattern of migraines which can occur weekly or monthly and in some cases daily. This will often lead to imaging (CT or MRI), medication, specialists and dependence on outside help to simply get through life.

The goal should be to reduce the dependence on medication or completely stopping all medication, avoid the need for imaging and specialist appointments and have the ability to manage your own migraines. If you can prevent the onset of pain and know what steps to take to prevent a recurrence of regular migraines or headaches, you now have control.

2. Not realising the neck could be to blame

There are a number of potential causes for migraines and many can occur at the same time, including, fatigue, food sensitivity, stress, dehydration, poor posture, lack of exercise and nutritional deficiency. By the far the most common and consistent with a majority of migraine sufferers is a related neck problem. A study from 2008 found that 74% of migraine sufferers also had related neck pain.

Patterns of referred pain from muscles in the neck, shoulders and jaw send pain to the head, neck and face and can lead to sensitivity in the brain stem, resulting in other migraine symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and sensitivity to sound and taste. Effectively resolving the problem or dysfunction in the neck, can get people much closer to managing or resolving their migraines.

3. Poor posture

Posture related pain can be from looking down at your phone, watching TV in bed or on the couch or while sitting at a desk, typically looking at a computer screen. Posture is your body’s position when you are sitting, standing, laying down or exercising. Spending long hours in front of a computer screen or looking at phone provides plenty of opportunity for poor posture to creep in.

The primary issue is long periods of looking down or with the head turned, out of neutral. This causes muscle fatigue and tightness, inflammation, sensitivity, poor blood flow and slow healing rates. Trigger Points are the result, causing pain locally and often in other areas such as the head, jaw and face. Other symptoms like nausea, blurred vision, light and sound sensitivity and brain fog are common side effects of trigger points.

To avoid this situation, you must move, either by standing and walking around, shrugging shoulders or moving the arms and neck around. A break every couple of hours, ideally with a walk will not only aid recovery but boost your concentration and mood. Most of all, prevent poor posture in the first place, position your body so it can work efficiently, eliminating excessive fatigue and strain.

4. Stress and Fatigue

Stress will cause adrenal fatigue due to the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. You can only push your body for so far , before you have to recharge or “Pay it back”. This is why a number of our patients experience migraines on a Friday or Saturday, at the end of a long and stressful week, as soon as you relax, your body will take the opportunity to reverse the effects of stress and often people crash, causing a migraine to develop.

Fatigue, caused by over working, long difficult days and a lack of sleep will prevent your body from repairing like it needs to, primarily at night. A second side effect of stress and fatigue is a weakening of the immune system, especially as Vitamin D levels are reduced in periods of stress. This leaves your body susceptible to the effects of a weak immune system and autonomic dysregulation such as infection and other diseases.

Regular rest and de-stressing with quite periods, light exercise, reduced stimulation, breathing techniques and rest are crucial to allowing the body to recover and prevent the onset of conditions such as migraines. Increasing potassium, vitamin B1 and magnesium intake can also help reverse the effects of elevated cortisol.

5. Food sensitivities and GUT health

One of the most unrecognised causes of migraines amongst our patients is the effect food sensitivities, digestive complaints and allergies can have on, not only migraines, but pain, inflammation and hormones. If you have any history of skin dryness, itching, eczema, psoriasis, abdominal bloating, indigestion, diarrhoea, GUT problems such as coeliac disease or anti-biotic use, you likely have some form of gastro-intestinal problem. This also includes Crohn’s disease, leaky gut, ulcerative colitis, as well as auto-immune diseases.

Many of these conditions are related to or caused by digestive problems, infections with parasites, fungus, mould, bacteria, dysbiosis of the gut or poor GUT function leading to poor regulation of the immune system, reduced absorption of nutrients and inflammatory responses in the body.

In short this is a very significant cause of health problems in the community which is not well known or understood by many people and is a common complicating or causative factor in relation to migraines.

This goes beyond simply eating well, repair of any imbalance in GUT flora as well as making sure that normally healthy food is not causing unrecognised reactions. We will prepare a more comprehensive article on GUT health, but for now, know that food and GUT function are crucial to health and can be a major contributor to pain and disease.

The take home message is that there are may causes of pain in this case migraines and it may be that multiple causes can be involved. Some of these you may recognise, some you may not. On top of this, a realistic expectation of what can be achieved is crucial. If there are multiple causes and you aren’t prepared to address all of them adequately, it’s almost impossible to expect to get on top of the problem. Many patients just want the pain to “go away”, which s understandable, unfortunately, sometimes it’s not as easy as taking a pill. You have to do the work, sometimes reverse years of poor habits or problems with your health that you may not have been aware of.

Despite this, most migraines have at least one cause from the above 5 common causes we discussed, which means, in most cases you can beat the problem, provided you take the necessary steps to do something about it and educate yourself about what you can do, who you should see and what you should avoid.

If you’d like more information about how to manage migraines you can request a copy of our eBook “The 7 surprising Things you need to know about Migraines”, you can make a time to talk to one of our osteopaths, free of charge via a 15 min telehealth appointment or you can book in for an appointment to just get on with managing your pain.

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