Migraine headaches are neurogenic/vascular1 headaches caused by abnormal nerve control of blood vessels that supply the brain. Sympathetic nerves control the diameter of blood vessels; when they lose proper regulation, they fire too much, causing blood vessels to constrict. Constriction of blood vessels decreases blood and oxygen to brain cells. The visual area of the brain is a common area to be affected; this is why many migraine sufferers experience an “aura” or visual disturbances before pain starts. Other migraine sufferers may have different aura sensations, while some have no aura at all; occasionally auras occur with no pain. The brain is not pain sensitive, so brain tissue is not the source of pain. When the sympathetic nerves run out of gas (neurotransmitters), blood vessels open up (dilate) rapidly, stretching nerve fibers (perivascular plexus) around the vessels, resulting in the pounding, throbbing pain many people report.
Migraine symptoms include moderate to severe pain, sensitivity to light, sound, and odors, vision and temperature changes, nausea and vomiting, appetite and temperature changes, fatigue, and dizziness2. Symptoms vary from person to person, and headache frequency varies. I have had cases with people having 3 migraines a week for decades, and others who have migraines once a year or less or only a few in their life.
Chiropractic and Migraines
Many people with migraines report relief with chiropractic care, but not everyone. The key to treatment is to try to improve the regulation of the sympathetic nerves, which are regulated by areas in the brain. If brain function is decreased, the sympathetics lose control. The most important input to the brain that keeps it running properly is from nerve receptors in spinal joints and tissues. If spinal joint dysfunctions exist, brain function decreases, and sympathetic problems result. Therefore, spinal joint and tissue problems may be the root cause of many migraines. Chiropractors specialize in analysis and correction of spinal joint and tissue problems and dysfunctions (subluxations). If you have not done so already, consider a chiropractic evaluation to try to help relieve your migraines. In my experience, many people have enjoyed relief with chiropractic care when other treatments have failed or only offer temporary relief.
Research on Chiropractic and Migraines
Research published in JMPT in 2000 showed that some people reported significant relief in migraines after chiropractic spinal adjustments, and 50% of participants reported decreased frequency, duration, intensity, and medication use after only two months of chiropractic spinal adjustments3.
Another research article in JMPT in 19984 compared the effectiveness of chiropractic spinal adjusting to amitriptyline (a drug commonly used for migraines). Chiropractic care was as effective as amitriptyline in relieving migraines, but the chiropractic care was twice as effective as amitriptyline in the post-treatment follow-up (longer sustained relief).
A third article published in the Australasian Chiropractic and Osteopathy Journal in 19995 showed that chiropractic spinal adjusting reduced migraine frequency, disability, and drug use with only two months of treatment, and follow-up six months after treatment ended, many people reported sustained relief. Although these studies contained relatively small numbers of people (127, 218, 32 people respectively), the conclusions were similar, encouraging, and reinforce my clinical experience and the experience of many chiropractors and thousands of chiropractic patients.
Chiropractic is Cost-Effective, saving you and the Health Care Industry money
Chiropractic care may not only help relieve suffering, but makes economic sense. Chiropractic is much less expensive than long term drugs, visits to the ER, and repeated doctor visits. More money may be saved with less missed work, and fewer co-payments for ER visits, doctor visits, and drugs.
Improving your General Health makes sense and may help
Many migraine sufferers report more migraines with increased stress, hormonal fluctuations, lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of fitness and regular exercise, and food triggers. Certain foods, including glutamate and aspartame in processed foods6 and diet soda, may increase migraines. You know your body better than any doctor or researcher, so if you have suspected food triggers, avoid them. Work on reducing your stress, getting regular rest, and try to exercise daily, even if only 15 or 20 minutes. Make sure you are drinking enough water but not too much. More solutions to follow.
Solutions for Migraines
1. Chiropractic care. If you are not already under care, find a chiropractor by word of mouth. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers who they like. If you are still looking for a chiropractor, use masschiro.org, chiropractic.org, idealspine.com, or call our office. Remember, manual chiropractic adjustments (spinal manipulation) are only one type of adjustment which chiropractors use. There are many types of chiropractic adjustments, and many are low or non-force. In my office I use a variety of chiropractic adjustments, including manual adjustments, low and non-force adjustments, soft tissue work, advice on nutrition and supplements, and health classes to answer questions.
2. Improve your nutrition, and get help if you need it. Try these books (thanks to Dan Murphy, DC):
Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills by Russell Blaylock MD (University of Mississippi neurosurgeon), Health Press, 1997 In Bad Taste, The MSG Symptom Complex, by George Schwartz, Health Press, 1999 The Crazy Makers, How the Food Industry Is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children, by Carol Simontacchi, Tarcher Putnam, 2000 Food Allergies by William Walsh, Wiley, 2000 Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, Houghton Mifflin, 2001 Health and Nutrition Secrets that Can Save Your Life by Russell Blaylock MD, Health Press, 2002
Use this website regarding processed food content and avoiding excitotoxins: www.truthinlabeling.org. Many of you may benefit from 6 smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day instead of three bigger meals.
3. Exercise regularly, your goal being every day. 15-20 minutes counts, and walking is great; workouts do not have to be hours long. It is better to exercise a little every day than a lot a couple days a week. Resistance exercise with cardio is best if you have the ability. Get help and motivation if you need it, including workout partners. If you live in a cold climate, have indoor options such as workout DVDs at home, gym memberships, and malls to walk in. Always check with your doctor before you begin exercise programs.
4. Many people do not drink enough water. A guide to start with is drink ½ oz of water for every pound of body weight; for instance, if you are 150 pounds, divide that in half, and you have 75 oz of water to drink a day. I recommend to “front load” your day; try to drink more water in the morning and afternoon and less in the late evening before bed. Start to drink water as soon as you get up in the morning. If you are drinking only a little water now, increase your intake slowly.
5. Fish oil (omega-3 fats) and supplemental antioxidants may help some people with migraines. Read my articles on fish oil and omega-3 fats, and there is a lot of information available on the importance of omega-3 fats and the function of the nervous system.
6. Try to establish a regular sleep pattern, going to bed and arising at the same time each day. Dr. Mercola has helpful recommendations on sleep on his website, www.mercola.com. Regarding sleep for children, Terry Gross of “Fresh Air,” an NPR program, featured an interview 9-30-09 with Po Bronson, who wrote the book NurtureShock. He discussed dozens of studies and work from the National Sleep Foundation which concluded children are sleeping an hour less now than 30 years ago, and cognitive abilities and academic performance suffer as a result. Some studies indicate 15 or 30 minutes of more sleep for children each night makes a big difference. Some schools start earlier for budget/busing issues, but other school districts have seen academic improvements with later school start times. More sleep may benefit children who suffer with migraines and tension headaches, too.
1. www.headachenech.com/headache_info/default.asp?Content=Migraine (New England center for headache)
2. nlm.nih.gov and webmd.com
3. www.jmptonline.org/article/S0161-4754(00)90073-3/abstract (research from the journal JMPT)
4. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9798179?dopt=Abstract (JMPT research article)