Migraine is more than ‘just a headache.’ Anyone who has ever suffered from the misery of a migraine will tell you that they can be anything from unsettling and uncomfortable to downright incapacitating. Not all people who experience migraines will get the classic headache – and some people don’t experience the headache every time. Because a migraine headache is considered a ‘primary’ headache, because there is no apparent underlying condition that could be causing it, they can be hard to treat.
What Is a Migraine Headache?
A migraine headache is more of a condition than just a headache. Migraine headaches are typically very severe and can come with additional symptoms like dizziness, nausea and even loss of speech and sight which can be extremely frightening. In some people, they are accompanied by sight disturbances and other neurological symptoms that doctors call the ‘migraine aura’. Sometimes, in a migraine with aura, there is no headache or it can be averted with painkillers at the aura stage, but in other cases the classic migraine headache can be blindingly painful, lasting anything from 20 minutes to a couple of days. Some people who experience sudden, severe, or recurrent migraines will need to be seen by a doctor and examined for other possible conditions, but in most cases migraines just have to be managed and treated as there is no cure – and often no obvious triggers. As migraine can sometimes be associated with other more severe conditions, if you have what you think is a migraine for the first time, you should seek advice from a medical professional.
How long can a migraine last?
Migraines are notorious for sticking around a long time. Some migraines only last for a few hours but if you’re unlucky enough to suffer from severe, prolonged migraines they can last for several days. Sometimes, the migraine sufferer will experience neurological symptoms before, during, and afterwards, including strange floating lights and auras. They might also experience these symptoms between bouts of pain.
What causes migraines?
Although the exact cause of migraine headaches is not known, most studies think there’s a genetic link that’s exacerbated by other triggers. Migraines tend to run in families and are usually hereditary. Some people can be set off by very strong smells, certain foods, heat, or bright lights.
How do you treat a migraine?
This is something you might want to discuss with your doctor, but there are options available for managing migraines. Many people turn to medication, understandably. Massage therapy can help to reduce the number of migraines in sufferers – a 2006 study of migraine sufferers showed that people who had massages experienced fewer migraines and slept better during the weeks they had massages, although it was a small study. You may have to try several different treatment options before discovering the best one for you.
How Can Massage Help?
A three-pronged approach that includes aromatherapy, massage therapy and cold therapy can be effective in helping relieve the pain of migraine for many sufferers.
The first step in stopping a migraine is to calm the client, and one effective way to achieve this goal is through aromatherapy. Depending on the trigger, you can have clients breathe different blends of oils. For example, if the client knows the migraine is the result of stress, try using essential oils of clary sage, spikenard, helichrysum and lavender. For an environmental trigger, you might try roman chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rosemary.
Have the client breathe from each vial of oil, one at a time. Whatever they find most appealing, use this oil during the massage session.
After choosing an oil, you’ll want to perform a series of headache point release techniques to help the client reach a calmer state. As a caution, you do not want to increase the blood flow to the neck and head, as doing so may result in accelerating the migraine pain. You may find that clients who are suffering from a migraine have several trigger points and very tight necks, and although not working on these areas sounds counterintuitive, the best thing to do is leave these areas alone for now.
Instead, the goal is to decrease blood flow, and stimulating these areas at this point can have the opposite effect. My research has shown that cranial sacral techniques are a wonderful accompaniment at this point in the treatment. After the headache is gone, at another treatment time, I suggest the therapist work the tight areas to help prevent future headaches.
The third phase of the treatment is to address the vascular component of the migraine. The therapist will need to try to reduce the overabundant blood flow to the head and brain with cold stones, thereby normalizing the blood flow. In doing so, the therapist will be reducing or removing the pounding sensation the client is experiencing in their head while helping to calm the brain. My own experience suggests that positioning specifically designed marble stones, cooled to approximately 36 degrees and applied to specific areas of the face and neck, has the desired effect. Many migraine sufferers love the feeling of the cold stones, and within a short amount of time start to feel relief.
Timing and triggers.
If at all possible, massage therapists will want to see the migrainer the day they feel the symptoms coming on because timing is critical to ward off the migraine before it can take full effect.
With busy schedules, however, you may not always be able to see a client right as they notice the symptoms. You can work alongside the client to try and figure out some of the triggers that cause migraine. Are they mostly occurring when the person has a particularly stressful week at work? Or maybe they notice that many of their migraines are happening when they eat certain foods.
Whatever the trigger might be, being more aware of when a migraine may be more likely to happen can help both you and the client anticipate when a massage therapy session might be needed.
Quick Facts About Migraines
Migraine attacks go beyond the symptoms of a normal headache and
require serious attention.
Often referred to as a spreading depression, migraines that start in a central location can rapidly spread.
A spreading depression can move into the trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve that affects the face), causing the blood vessels of the brain to constrict and then dilate continuously.
Migraine attacks can occur daily and can be devastating to the sufferer’s ability to function normally.
People with migraines can be more susceptible to epilepsy.
Although the exact causes of migraines aren’t well understood, we do know that many people have some common triggers, including food allergies, caffeine addiction, environmental stimulation, stress and hormonal imbalan
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