Insight Pain Management – If you’re one of the 39 million Americans estimated by the American Migraine Foundation to be living with migraines, you probably understand how difficult it can be to find relief from this deeply painful and often debilitating recurring condition. Unlike a typical headache, a migraine is a neurological condition that causes a wide range of symptoms, including throbbing pain, nausea, fatigue, and even vision loss. For some people, migraines may be infrequent and only last for a few hours. But for others, they can be common and last for days at a time.
Each year in June we recognize National Migraine and Headache Awareness month. Although there is still no cure for migraines, researchers are learning more about this condition every day and continue to share tips and resources with patients. Whether your migraines are episodic or chronic, over the counter pain relief is rarely enough. However, there are a combination of other methods that are effective in treating and preventing migraines – including many you can do at home. Here are eight simple tips that may reduce your symptoms or prevent the onset of an attack. As always, remember to speak to your doctor about treatment options that will work best for you.
Relax In a Dark, Quiet Location
Light and sound are two of the most common triggers for migraine attacks, often causing people susceptible to migraines to experience intensified pain or discomfort. According to research published in Nature Neuroscience, light-related migraine pain occurs when light activates pain transmitting cells in the eye. These cells help maintain sleep-wake cycles and pupil response to light. This is one of the reasons migraine pain intensifies in a setting with bright lights but improves after being in the dark for a period of time. If you find yourself experiencing migraine symptoms from bright or flashing lights, find a dark, quiet location as soon as possible to relax or sleep. Although this may not eliminate the symptoms altogether, it should help prevent them from worsening.
Keep an Ice Pack On Hand
While resting in a calm location, you should also consider grabbing an ice pack or cold compress. A study in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that cold therapy completely eliminated migraine pain in eight out of 20 participants, with an additional ten participants reporting at least partial relief. Within 24 hours of application, almost 90% of participants reported a reduction in symptoms. Plus, cold therapy is very easy! Simply apply a store bought cold pack or a plastic bag filled with ice to the forehead, temples, and neck in 15 minute intervals, or as needed.
Think About Caffeine
If you experience migraines, your caffeine consumption may be acting as a trigger in a number of ways. Recent research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that caffeine may be both a cause and a treatment for migraines. For many people, caffeine is a go-to remedy for headache pain because it reduces inflammation and provides fast relief at the onset of symptoms.
At the same time, caffeine withdrawal may be what is causing many of your symptoms. Researchers say caffeine narrows the blood vessels around the brain, resulting in relief. However, pain will return as the caffeine wears off and the blood vessels expand again.
It is also possible to overuse caffeine. Like when you use pain relief medication for an extended period of time, the relief eventually wears off and pain often feels worse than before. Caffeine users usually report a similar experience.
If you experience migraine headaches, be mindful of your caffeine intake and how it affects you. It might be a good idea to cut down on consumption or avoid it completely. One of the best ways to do this is by gradually reducing your use over a period of time. For example, if you drink three cups of coffee each day, decrease one cup each week. Sudden caffeine withdrawal can take more than a week before you see results and can make your migraine symptoms worse.
Also Think About Food
Like caffeine, certain foods are also known to trigger migraines. Baked goods with yeast, chocolate, dairy products, nuts, and additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrates, and aspartame are all common foods that have been tied to migraine symptoms. Eating habits also play an important role in managing migraines.
Making sure you eat enough food, remembering to not skip meals, and choosing fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables are also an important part of preventing migraines. Keeping a food journal is a great way to determine if a certain type of food is triggering symptoms. When you get a migraine, return to the journal to see what you ate in the hours or days before. If you suspect a certain food may be the cause, eliminate it from your diet for a period of time and record your results.
There is a strong link between migraine headaches and dehydration. According to the American Migraine Foundation, approximately one-third of people with migraines say lack of hydration can trigger symptoms. Experts suggest about eight glasses of water a day for the average adult, but most of us fall short of that recommendation.
Why is staying hydrated so important? The body requires a sufficient amount of electrolytes, which are necessary for regulating and replacing minerals in the body throughout the day. When these minerals are not replenished, dehydration begins. Not only can this contribute to migraines, but it can also cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you feel a migraine coming on, start drinking fluids as soon as possible. Many people who experience dehydration-related migraines will feel relief within a half hour of fluid consumption.
Address Teeth Grinding
Although many people may not realize they have this problem, teeth grinding is a common contributor to migraine headaches. When we’re stressed, we often clench or grind our teeth, causing the jaw muscles to tighten. This tension then travels throughout the skull, causing headaches and migraines. Similarly, toothaches, earaches, and even chewing gum can cause enough tension in the jaw muscles to contribute to migraine symptoms.
If you suspect teeth grinding or jaw pain is triggering migraine symptoms, speak to your doctor. There are a number of techniques that can address this issue, including physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, and at home exercises.
Try Chiropractic and Massage Therapy
In addition to helping with teeth grinding and jaw pain, chiropractic treatments are a great way to keep the body healthy and address other factors causing migraine headaches. A study in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies interviewed 1,869 chiropractors and found that at least 53% had a caseload that was high in patients being treated for migraines.
Chiropractic adjustments can reduce stress, improve spinal function, treat neck stiffness, and address muscle tension. Unlike prescription medications and anti-inflammatory treatments that do not get to the bottom of what is causing symptoms, chiropractors are trained to target underlying problems.
Massage therapy is also an effective approach to managing and preventing migraines. A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that massage therapy had a statistically significant effect on pain intensity. From lowering serotonin levels linked to migraines to relieving tension and pain signals, massage therapy can have a positive impact on your health.
Migraine sufferers are very sensitive to smells. Even the slightest odor can trigger a migraine for many people, which is why aromatherapy to treat attacks might seem counterintuitive. However, many essential oils provide relief in reducing symptoms and can even block noxious odors like perfume or smoke. Peppermint oil is one of the most commonly used because it contains menthol which has analgesic properties that can numb pain triggered by pain fibers. Lavender, rosemary, ginger root, bergamot, and eucalyptus are other essential oils and scents that migraine sufferers use to ease symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
According to the American Migraine Foundation, fewer than 50% of people with migraines seek medical treatment. But if your headaches are moderate to severe in intensity and interfere with your ability to work, go to school, or participate in daily activities, you should consider speaking to a healthcare professional. From pain management to chiropractic services and massage therapy, Insight offers a wide range of treatment options for migraine headaches. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit our website.