What Causes Migraines

Migraines & The Healthcare System

If you ask your doctor they will correctly tell you the actual cause of migraines is unclear; but that they are thought to be the result of transient changes in brain chemistry, and blood flow in the brain. They may also rightly point out that there can be genetic factors, migraines often run in families. Gene factors have in fact been isolated by geneticists.  Your doctor will also correctly tell you that there are a number of useful drugs that were originally developed for conditions like epilepsy and depression that can also relieve migraine attacks. 

As far as wholesale measurable science goes, the wisdom above is essentially all we know about migraines.  We are a long long way from knowing ‘scientifically’ what migraines really are ‘made of’. Happily, outside of laboratories and scientific journals, in the real world,  there is far more to be said about the management of migraine headaches.

There are countless clinicians across many valid healthcare disciplines who know that there are many observable patterns that influence migraine. Patterns that have yet to be studied but can be put to good use both safely and effectively for migraine sufferers… now! Knowing that blue cheese triggers your severe migraine and deciding to not eat blue cheese is one such example, you don’t need the help of someone in a white coat for that.

The good news then is that if you can find one of these clinicians who has an understanding of migraines and how to manage them successfully you may be able to free yourself. Not only from debilitating headaches but also from debilitating drug therapies. And if you do achieve this you definitely won’t be the first.

Migraines And The Musculoskeletal System

One of the happiest pieces of news about migraines is that many of them improve greatly when you resolve any neck and jaw issues you may have.

Tension and inflammation in the muscles, joints, and soft tissues of the neck and jaw can create a great deal of pain, anyone who has some experience of injury in this area will vouch for that. But how do migraines fit in to this picture? A major key to understanding migraines is that they can be generated by ‘referred pain’.

A better-known example of ‘referred pain’ is sciatica or sciatic pain. Most people know that sciatic pain is felt in the back of the leg but usually is actually coming from a problem deep inside the lower spine or pelvis.

A deeper understanding of migraines arises when we learn that many of them come from problems with inflammation and muscle spasms deep inside the neck and jaw. Many people have a powerful  demonstration of this when they come to our clinic for migraine treatment. When we press on ‘trigger points’ in their neck muscles it instantly brings on their migraine pain.

Releasing the underlying muscle, joint and soft tissue problems assocoated with migraine cases is a process. The key ingredient in that process is working with practitioners who you trust. Sometimes you need a whole team of clinicians to help you with the various treatment aspects required to more successfully manage migraines.

Migraines And The ‘Emotional System’

A significant number of the migraine sufferers we meet can trace the onset of their migraines back to a period of increased emotional stress.

Headaches have been noted in the Chinese Medicine literature for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese doctors investigate illnesses by meticulously recording symptoms and looking for patterns that might reveal their cause. In this respect, it has been noted for several thousand years that the majority of headache sufferers present with way more tension in their upper necks than the average patient. They also noted that migraine sufferers present with more than their fair share of emotional suppression. And further, still, it has been noted that the worst migraine sufferers almost all find it very difficult to express or ‘let out’ any anger they have in their lives.

Without claiming to be able to scientifically prove that migraines are caused in part by emotional suppression; it is possible to observe how commonly they are associated with and triggered by it. 

If you treat lots and lots of migraine sufferers (we have) and look out for neck tension and emotional patterns you realise that they go hand in hand, no differently from how toothache and cavities go hand in hand. Western medical doctors have touched on this fact. Look on any ‘global 1st page’ medical website like Medscape or WebMD and they will point out that emotional factors are common ‘triggers’ for migraine. 

The perspective humbly offered here is that emotional patterns may be a ‘causative’ factor in migraines as opposed to a ‘triggering factor’. The reason we believe this is that we have seen so many people find that their migraine goes away with a shift in the emotional pattern or a shift in neck tension. There is a world of difference between a cause and a trigger, tennis triggers heart attacks after all but it doesn’t cause heart attacks, that’s the job of heart disease.

Many migraine stop altogether when the patient changes their life situation for the better. Leaving your job, dismembering your parents, selling your kids, or getting a divorce aren’t always the most ideal solutions to any problem, however. Learning to deal better with stress and working on resilience tools can be more humane solutions.

Migraines And The Digestive System

Some of us have ‘severe’’ food intolerances that are essentially causative when it comes to migraines. In other words, your migraines won’t go away completely unless you quit eating that certain food. The two most common examples of this that we see in clinics are dairy and wine. 

There is however another type of food-based migraine triggers that are ‘non-severe’.These are distinguished and defined by those foods a migraine sufferer can return to consuming once they have resolved some of their other physical (and sometimes emotional) issues.

There’s a great way to identify which foods are severe intolerances in your case. Do a sensible amount of work on any underlying musculoskeletal and emotional factors. Once you have got on top of these and your migraines have reduced, try reintroducing those foods, if they still trigger you then they are essentially causative and have to be banished permanently. 

If you want to read more on foods that trigger migraines you can read about them on our migraine triggers page here.

For reasons as yet unknown to science the liver is often involved with migraine headaches. It may be no coincidence that the liver has been known for centuries to have a role in the chemistry of anger. This is why people can be lily-livered (unable to be angry) or livid (very angry) after all. 

 the A clue to the liver’s involvement is in how many migraine sufferers cannot tolerate alcohol. Many migraine sufferers find that doing a liver detox reduces the severity and frequency of their headaches. Working with clinicians who have some experience with ‘liver wellness’ is for many an excellent part of the migraine relief jigsaw.