Even though sometimes they’re used interchangeably, headaches and migraines are different afflictions. Migraines are more intense than headaches, longer, and are accompanied by several other sensory symptoms that can make them debilitating. Migraines also often have preceding symptoms that warn of its onset, like auras. The underlying causes of migraines are the things in life that make your neck, shoulders, upper back, face and jaw muscles tight and tender. This includes injuries through your lifetime, and food that is inflammatory to your biology. Luckily, there are holistic options for migraine treatment available. But first, let’s take a look at possible causes and common symptoms of migraines:
Causes of Migraines
Migraines are thought to be caused by swelling in the blood vessels in and around the head. One of the reasons migraine treatment is so difficult is because blood vessels are not the cause of migraine. Headaches and migraines do not come from your head. Not your blood vessels and not your nerves. Migraine and other headaches come from the fascia of your head, neck, upper shoulders, upper back, face, and jaw. And a lot of things affect this fascia and thereby pain and headache:
- Stress or anxiety
- Alcohol, caffeine, smoking, or withdrawal from any of these
- Too much sensory stimuli (lights, sounds, smells)
- Missing sleep or meals
- Hormonal changes (pregnancy, menstrual cycle)
- Intense physical activity
- Foods (additives, allergies)
Symptoms of Migraine Headaches
What makes migraines different is the symptoms, not the cause. We call them migraines when there are symptoms before the onset, during the attack, and sometimes after the attack as well.
Symptoms that Precede a Migraine (Pre-drome Symptoms):
- Aura: Auras are sensory malfunctions that signal to a person a migraine will onset soon. They’re not just visual disturbances, though they do include vision loss or seeing shapes and colors that aren’t there. Aura can also include tingling in the limbs, trouble talking or gathering your thoughts, and numbness on one side of your face.
- Digestive Issues: Many people who suffer from migraines report cravings, constipation, fluid retention and/or urination irregularities in the few days before a migraine.
- Mood Changes: These can include tiredness, euphoria, anxiety or depression.
Symptoms that Occur During a Migraine Attack:
- Throbbing or pulsing pain that usually affects one side of the head, neck and face
- Sensitivity to sensory stimuli including light, sound, touch, smell and taste
Symptoms that Occur After a Migraine (Post-drome Symptoms):
- Sudden and short spurts of pain with head movement
- Confusion or fogginess for a day or two
- Some people occasionally report feeling very excited after a migraine attack
To understand these symptoms in more depth, we need to better understand specialized headaches, as well as the myofascial pain of migraines and its possible causes:
Understanding Headaches and Migraines
Several kinds of headaches exist, and an overwhelming majority are secondary headaches, meaning the headache is a symptom of an underlying condition. In fact, the myofascial pain professional community has recognized that more than 90% of all these headaches occur because of an underlying myofascial pain condition. Tension, sinus, cluster, migraine, and TMJ are among the most frequently diagnosed types of headaches. So understanding myofascial pain conditions is vital to effective headache treatment. A couple major headache types that can only affect part of the population are in children and menstruating women.
Do Children Get Headaches or Migraines?
Children of all ages get headaches, too. According to recent medical research, children are generally under-treated and their pain conditions are less likely to be taken seriously. But children can get tension headaches from stress, and they can suffer from migraines, too. Their migraine symptoms may differ a bit from adult symptoms; children with migraines sometimes report abdominal pain. If a child doesn’t have the capacity to express their pain vocally, a child may sit up, hold his legs and rock back and forth, so look out for this behavior if you’re not sure how much pain your child is in. Common headache and migraine treatment for children includes OTC painkillers (which we do not recommend) and keeping a strict sleeping and eating schedule. Other treatments are the same as what we do for adults at the Blatman Health and Wellness Center. Headaches come mostly from tender and injured fascia from the top of the head to the middle of the back, combined with what our immune system and hormonal systems do to our fascia.
What are Alternative Options for Menstrual Migraine?
Menstrual migraines usually occur before and during menstruation. They’re often a result of the dramatic drop in progesterone levels that can occur with the onset of menstruation. These migraines can start in childhood. Common non-pharmaceutical menstrual migraine treatments include magnesium supplements, estrogen supplements, or hormonal birth control. At the Blatman Health and Wellness Center we find that bio-identical progesterone direct to blood and not through skin or stomach is generally very helpful for girls and women. Other contributors include inflammatory food, sugar, lack of sleep, stress, illness and more.
Understanding Myofascial Pain of the Head
Recent studies and advances in anatomy and what is called “fascia sparing dissection” techniques have taught us much about the origin of pain. Interestingly, it is not what we were taught.
80% of the information that comes to our brain from our periphery is from free nerve endings between the strings, cords, and sheets of fascia that measure friction and pressure. When our fascia strings get wound into a knot (myofascial trigger point) it is these free nerve endings that send the pain signal. We have these knots in our myofascia (can’t separate muscle and fascia) throughout our bodies as a result of a lifetime of injuries. Check out our you tube videos for more information.
Myofascial pain is caused when these nerves withing the “myofascial trigger point” are “lit up” by something you did. Pain does not fall down from the sky. Your body’s job is to make you feel good 24/7. If it is not, then you have been sent to your room for something you did or something you ate.
Any myofascial trigger point in the muscles of the scalp, jaw, neck, shoulders and upper back can actually cause pain in the head and face; this is known as referred pain. The way referred pain from these trigger points spreads causes symptoms related to all types of headaches. But where are these trigger points? And what areas of the head and face do they affect?
These illustrations are from Travell and Simons medical text book. The “x’s” represent the locations of trigger points, and the red dots illustrate the locations of referred pain. This first diagram is of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Notice that it causes pain in forehead, sinus, ear and back of the head areas.
Myofascial trigger points in the muscles under the back of the skull radiate pain to the back of the head, and around to the forehead. These trigger points cause tension headache and migraine headache.
The pain is actually caused by knots in the muscles (the myofascial trigger points). We know this because when the knots are made smaller, the pain is less. When the knots are made to go away, the pain is gone. And these knots form from a lifetime of injuries to your fascia that start before birth.
After doctors performs MRIs, CTs and blood tests to rule out life threatening causes for the headaches, these patients need an individualized, comprehensive and holistic migraine treatment program.
Comprehensive Migraine Treatment from a Cincinnati-Based Health and Wellness Center
Individualized holistic treatment has been shown to be effective for many headache sufferers. Myofascial medicine has much to offer. Healing touch, photon therapy, trigger point injections, bio-identical hormones, neural therapy, massage therapy, herbal therapy, and platelet-rich-plasma injections can all be helpful. The Blatman Health and Wellness Center offers people an opportunity for holistic education, treatment, and direction for living with migraines and making them go away. Our Cincinnati and New York City offices offer individualized headache treatment and migraine treatment plans that don’t include NSAIDs or opioid regiments.
No single therapy has much chance for success; migraine treatment is tricky because migraine’s exact causes are somewhat elusive. Our health and wellness center offers migraine treatment in Cincinnati that treats the person, not their symptoms. Oftentimes lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, stress and sleep schedule can really aid in any physical therapies we recommend, like massage therapy or PRP therapy. The best treatment for chronic conditions like migraines is a comprehensive approach, which is something Dr. Blatman takes the time to explain to our patients.