Is There More To Your Migraine Headaches Than Meets The Eye?

The Migraine Issue

The estimated global prevalence of migraine is 14.7% (that’s around 1 in 7 people). Migraine is more common than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma put together. Migraine affects x3 as many women as men. Research implies that 3,000 migraine attacks occur every day every million people. There are estimated to be over 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK alone.

So you can at least be sure that if you have a migraine headache at any given moment you are far from being alone. To a fairly large extent wetern medicine has shrugged its shoulders in regards to the migraine issue and gone about the business of helping with things it is better at.  There is some research conducted on the topic of migraine but not a lot relative to their prevalence. There are no massive research budgets out there for the study of migraine and headache causes, and I guarantee you  that 99% of doctors have not give the the cause of migraine much thought since well before they left medical school. You could argue that the relative effectiveness of migraine headache medications in limiting attacks justifies this relaxed attitude.
The outcome of all this indifference is what you might expect. Heaps of people with unresolved migraines. A loose general consensus that migraine headaches are something to do with blood flow to the brain, and a shortlist of pharmaceuticals that can must definitely help with an attack in most cases. To their credit your doctor may also be happy to talk to you about food trigger avoidance but that’s probably not anything you couldn’t figure out for yourself.
So the question is whether there is anything more to the treatment and understanding of migraines than a shrug and bottle of pills. So, what if you are a migraine sufferer and you aren’t happy with the outcomes your get from trigger avoidance and taking a pill when that fails? Is there anything more to the migraine headache story?
My answer to this question is… Yup! A whole lot more!

What Really Causes Migraine

To be clear, my version of the migraine headache story is in no way proven scientifically and has in fact not been studied scientifically either. As you will see though there are some solid scientific foundations that make it a pretty solid theory. In the end however, this explanation of migraines is a matter of clinical experience handed down though generations of practically minded practitioners and healers to the present day.
Migraines are fundamentally caused by chronic muscles tension and soft tissue irritation. It feels good just to just to have that out here in the open doesn’t it? Feel free to say it out loud 3 times, go on see how it feels ;-) There are a percentage of you reading who kinda knew this all along, because you could feel it.
Chronic muscles tension & chronic soft tissue irritation in the scalp, jaw, neck and shoulders, that’s fundamentally what causes migraines. Now that you know this, the next questions are how, why and what can we do about it.

How Me?

 So let’s say that I am right about that cause of migraines, how can muscle and soft tissue issues in the scalp, jaw, neck and shoulders cause a migraine? After all migraines happen in the head, behind the eye and involve all sorts of strange symptoms like sensitivity to light, nausea and visual disturbances that we wouldn’t usually associate with muscle tension.
Muscle tension bad enough to cause migraines comes from 3 main sources.
  1. Old Injuries like whiplash
  2. Postural Issues
  3. Stress and suppression of emotions.
Old injuries in the neck can lead to chronic muscles and soft tissues issues if they don’t heal successfully, which is common. The human neck is a delicate weight bearing column that has to support an unusually large cranium. The neck never gets a single day off in its entire lifetime of performing its supporting role for the head. The difficulty of its job and the lack of rest mean that without extensive rehab many of life’s knocks don’t recover fully.
Postural issues like those suffered by many office workers cause persistent compression of the soft tissues in the neck. The tissues in the neck are design to bear loads obviously, but like any load bearing structure the neck has its limits. If you spend year after year with stubborn postural compression playing out in your neck you can end up with ALOT of stiffness, ALOT of tension and ALOT of inflammation. It is worth knowing that like so many states of unwellness and disease in the body all this can go ‘unfelt’ for large portions of time.
Stress and suppression of emotions can generate a huge amount of pressure in the neck, scalp, jaw and shoulders over time. The tension we hold in our necks is invisible to onlookers and so normal for many of us that we don’t even register it. This type of tension can be so severe though that is can cause serious neck pain, osteoarthritis, headaches and in some people it can even wear down the hardest structure in the body.. tooth enamel.
All the above sources of trauma and tension to the soft tissues in the neck can generate migraines. The way in which the tissues do this is much the same as the way sciatic pain can come from the lower back. Sciatic pain is felt in the back of the leg but the pain is caused deep in the lower back and pelvis.
Migraine headache pain is felt in temple and behind the eye usually but comes from inflammation of muscles and soft tissue in the neck, jaw, shoulder and scalp.
The above statement is not a wild theory. There is in fact a sound scientific basis for this, as researchers have found nerve pathways that may explain this mechanism of referred migraine headache pain.
 

Why Me?

 The question of why we get migraines is kind of tied up with the answers above. We get migraines when our muscle and soft tissues get so ‘out of whack’ that exotic pain pathways are activate in our head and neck areas.
In another sense there is a broader and deeper ‘why’ behind the migraine topic. We get migraines because some aspect of our wellbeing has been neglected.
You really can’t get migraines unless you have seriously neglected some aspect of your wellbeing. To be clear about this ‘neglect’ can happen completely unintentionally and unwittingly, it is often not a deliberate thing.
If you have an old injury in your neck that has not been rehabilitated it basically a form of accidental neglect of a body part that has been seriously in need of some TLC.
If your posture has got so bad that compression of your neck tissues has lead to migraine headaches,  you have definitely neglected your bodies need for the right kind of movements. This includes allowing weakness to creep into the muscles of the upper back.
But what about if emotional stress in your neck, shoulder and jaw has caused you to develop migraine headaches. Is that a form of neglect? When emotions are allowed to build up so much that they make us sick it does mean that something has been neglected. Usually that something is an ‘inner voice’ that has been trying to tell us something for a long time. Many of us are absolute masters at suppressing emotions and those of us who are best at it often get sick in one way or another. Suppressing emotions that are felt over and over is in itself just another form of neglect that ultimately does us harm.
 
 

What Can We Do About It?

 The great news is that there is a lot that can be done to help the majority of migraine headache cases. Usually a process of reversing whatever neglect lead them to become a problem in the first place.
The start point on the migraine relief journey is always identifying the the underlying cause of the migraines. This is usually possible to achieve within the confines of a 45 minute conversation about your history of migraines with someone who is experienced in treating them.
Once you know what is causing your migraines a tentative plan of management can be formed and treatment can get underway. Treatment for migraines generally involves a range of safe, non-invasive but often somewhat painful ‘manual therapies’ for the soft tissues of the neck, jaw and shoulders.
Acupressure, neuromuscular release, scar tissue stretching, spinal manipulation, postural exercises, traction and vibration massage all have a part to play in this process. Not all migraine headache sufferers respond to the same kind of treatment so when it comes to managing them variety is definitely the spice!

 Conclusions

 The word freedom conjurs up many possible images in the mind. Often areas of life like money, relationships and travel are associated with freedom. There is a deeper layer to the topic of freedom however, one that only those who have been sick or in pain really understand.
The freedom to be able to simple stand sit or lie without pain, the freedom to choose what you want to do with your day, the freedom to be able to get through a days work in comfort. These are the most basic ingredients of a life that feels ‘free’. Living with chronic migraines headaches and any other type of persistent pain is a major box that must be ticked in order to have a lasting experience of that kind of freedom. At the deepest level of our experience being pain free is a freedom issue, and an important one at that.
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