Migraines are a common health problem that currently affects one in seven adults in the UK, with women three times more likely to get them than men.
This month I was asked to answer the following health question of a Healthy magazine reader:
“My doctor has dismissed my frequent, debilitating headaches as tension headaches. But I often feel sick, have to go to bed and take days off work. Could they be migraines?”
Firstly, to clarify, there are many different types of headache. Tension type headaches (TTH) feel dull and achy, like a tight band around your head and last 20 minutes to a few days whereas Migraines are defined as severe, recurrent headache attacks, which last 4 to 72 hours and include at least two of the following features; unilateral pain, throbbing pain, aggravation by movement, moderate or severe intensity and one of the following; nausea/vomiting, heightened sensitivity to light/sound.
The features the reader describes of nausea and disturbed daily activity indicate she could be experiencing migraines.
Migraine is a complex condition as the underlying causes or “triggers” vary between individuals so it vital that a full consultation is carried out in order to effectively treat the whole person.
Examples of holistic treatment for migraines can include keeping a migraine/headache diary so that individuals can establish their specific environmental, emotional, dietary and physical triggers.
Stress is a common trigger for migraine so scheduling regular stress relief practices such as holistic therapies i.e. aromatherapy massage and reflexology, yoga and meditation as well as maintaining a good sleep routine can all combat migraine attacks. For instant stress relief you can try this hand reflexology routine:
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) emotional and physical health are closely connected so if an individual is having difficulties with aspects of their personal/professional life then counselling support can address the underlying emotions, e.g. fear is the primary emotion believed to be linked to migraines, to relieve migraine attacks.
Many individuals are surprised to learn the extent that poor posture and trigger points (hyperirritable sites located in the muscle or fascia), specifically in the head, neck and face can produce migraine pain. Advanced deep tissue massage using trigger point therapy identifies and releases these trigger points and can prevent the occurrence of migraines, or at least the frequency and intensity of a migraine attack.
Diet may also need to be addressed as nutritional deficiencies and food intolerances can trigger migraine attacks. If you need in-depth support with this a nutritionist can help.
Some scientists believe that changes in hormones can trigger a migraine. In particular women are more likely to experience a migraine prior to their menstrual cycle due to decreased oestrogen levels. Aromatherapy massage using personalized essential oils can help to balance and stabilise the hormones naturally.
In terms of medication for headaches/migraines, natural sticks containing levomenthol, i.e 4head, can be applied to the forehead and temples and over the counter products, which contain buclizine i.e. Migraleve will relieve nausea though as a holistic therapist I would always advocate seeking to address the underlying issues to remedy the migraine attacks.