(This article originally written for Solcana Wellness)
I thought I’d talk a bit about the migraine today.
As a person who has had a history of getting migraines in the past, let me just say: Migraines are NO joke! Not only can they bring your day and the plans you had for it to an abrupt halt, but they can last for more than one full day, and the after effects can lessen your quality of life for a day or so afterwards as well as your body recuperates. Yeouch!
What is a Migraine?
- A migraine includes both neurological and vascular changes during the migraine attack itself, and it includes a hypersensitivity to different stimuli that can then create pain, causing a cascade effect including activation of blood vessel inflammation, which in turn creates more pain signals.
Migraines often come in four stages, though many people do not experience all stages.
- a day or so before the migraine itself occurs, there may be warnings signs such as neck stiffness, bowel changes (trending towards constipation), increased thirst and yawning.
- An aura is a visual disturbance experienced by some people who get migraines. They can appear as spiky, shifting, flashing or zig-zaging patterns in the visual field. They typically start as a small dot and grow and expand over the course of 30 to 60 minutes, often before the pain of the migraine itself begins.
- Migraine Attack
- This is when the pain begins, and lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Some of the symptoms may include thrubbing pain in the head or neck, vomiting, nausea, major sensitivity to light, smells, touch or sounds, difficulty with vision, muscle pain and feeling lightheaded.
- This is the follow-up phase to the painful attack, which can bring about tiredness, confusion, continued sensitivity visual or other stimuli and emotional exhaustion, too.
So when someone says they experience migraines, do them a kindness and don’t ask how they’re different from a headache!
What can typically bring on a migraine for many sufferers are things called triggers. These triggers can vary widely depending on the person, and often it may take one or two triggers coming together as a perfect storm for someone to then experience a migraine.
- Being under hydrated
- Skipping sleep
- Barometric pressure changes (abrupt weather changes)
- Tight upper back, neck or jaw muscles
- Hormonal changes around menstruation
- Food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame
- Preserved or aged foods, such as some cheeses, coffee, chocolate
- Wine (nitrates, nitrites, tannins and yeasts may all be contributors), alcohol in general,
- Chemical sensitivities (strong perfumes, laundry detergents, secondhand smoke)
- And more…
What can I do BEFORE the migraine attack?
Luckily, because migraines triggers are so specific to the individual, there’s often plenty you can do to start to understand and even mitigate the likelihood of migraines before they occur:
- Keep a journal
- to be specific, a food, drink, and environment journal. Write down the foods you are eating, being specific about when you eat them. Also note any beverages, including amount of water you drink throughout the day. Add in anything you notice, such as feelings of lethargy, slight headaches, the weather. Bring awareness to what’s going on around you and you may be surprised what it reveals! Take out offending foods or drinks to help yourself as needed. Don’t drink enough water and think that may be a contributor? Try bringing a water around with you at work. Take an extra break (if you can) to fill up your water bottle. Add sliced lemons, limes, cucumber, strawberry tops or blueberries to your water to keep it interesting. Grab a pack of sparkling water so you’re excited to drink water.
- Reduce stress loads
- this means begin to balance your blood sugar levels (when they’re out of whack, that’s a stress), identify emotional stress, check out how often and when you work out, and what your sleep looks like these days. What are actionable steps you can take to manage these? Is it adding a 10 minute dog walk in the morning to geting your body moving? Is it getting breakfast ready the night before so you have more time to sleep? If tight muscles may be a culprit, get mobilizing, massage or use a lacrosse ball to smash out the tight muscles. Ask a coach or mobility instructor for specific movements to help. Many people experience “let-down” migraines, too. These are migraines that can occur on weekends or times when we naturally unwind, especially if we’re someone that powers though the week frequently. Another thing to note in the journal of yours!
- Herbs such as raspberry leaf, vitex or feverfew
- discuss these with a knowledgeable professional, but raspberry leaf and vitex are both useful herbs to help balance hormone levels for those who experience migraines with their cycle. Feverfew is an herb that can act as a preventative for migraines.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- our bodies need enough omega-3 fatty acids to help our inflammatory processes work efficiently, so bring on the fatty fish, chia seed, walnuts and flaxseeds.
What can I do DURING the migraine attack?
Once you’re in the migraine itself, it’s a whole other ball game. I personally was prescribed medication when I was a teenager that never really helped the pain, so taking it was not very motivating and made me seek out other options. Again, just like migraine triggers are personal, so too are relief options, playing around with them is key to find out what works for you. There is always a place for medication (and that’s a dialogue to have with your doctor), so it will not be a focus of this post, and instead more natural remedies are what I can speak to. Here are a few ideas:
- Magnesium: Oral magnesium supplements are a great preventative, helping muscles relax appropriately and assisting in boatloads of body processes. In addition, topical magnesium such as taking an epsom salt bath or using magnesium oil spray is a great way to target specific muscles that are clenching up.
- Ice cubes: sometimes keeping an ice cube or drinking very cold liquid through a straw to hit your soft palate (the top and back of your month) can feel soothing during the middle of an attack.
- Drink caffeine: If you know me, you may be saying “wait, what?” right now. There’s totally a time and place for using caffeine, and a migraine attack can be one of them! The theory is that caffeine is vasoconstrictive and can aid in managing blood flow, helping with pain. Just be aware of the amount of caffeine being ingested, because feeling jittery or like you can’t fall asleep compounded with an attack is well, ouch.
- Eat something: make sure you aren’t working on an empty stomach during this time, even if you are feeling nauseated and not like eating. Half an apple with a nut or seed butter, or carrots and hummus. Doesn’t need to be super flavorful, just needs to give you body some energy while it’s managing what’s happening.
- Massage: especially if you migraine triggers include tight muscles, see if you or someone else can massage your neck, traps or upper back muscles to provide some relief.
- Remove stimuli: go to a dark room and lay down. Powering through often won’t help, or can extend the post-drome stage after the attack.
So. Migraines. There’s a whole lot to them, and they’re painful to experience, which makes them doubly intense to try to figure out. However, you’re not alone, and it can be extremely useful to understand what your triggers may be. I went from living in fear of seeing the aura and not knowing my triggers when I was a young teenager to now going over 2 years without experiencing a true migraine! Once you can get a hold of your triggers, it lessens the likelihood of that “perfect storm” to occur. Add in those preventative measures and dang, suddenly the mysterious migraines isn’t such a big question mark as it once was.