As we head into Migraine Awareness Week (3rd to 8th September), here are a few facts about this disabling condition that might surprise you:

  • Migraine is the world’s third most common illness, suffered by one in seven people across the globe and eight million people here in the UK;
  • Migraines affect twice as many women as men and can also strike at young children;
  • Most sufferers have an average of 13 attacks a year, lasting between four hours and three days;
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) categorises chronic migraines as more disabling than blindness, paraplegia, angina or rheumatoid arthritis;
  • The illness costs the UK around £2.25 billion per annum, taking into account the cost of medication and the 25 million days of sick leave!

(Sources: Migraine Trust/ Migraine Action)

 What is migraine?

Migraine is, therefore, an absolute headache in every sense of the word. But more than that, it’s actually a complex neurological condition that can affect the whole body. Usually (but not always) there’s a painful headache preceded or accompanied by disturbed vision or aura. This can present with, for example, flashing lights, blind spots, zig zag patterns, pins and needles, numb limbs, confusion and difficulty in speaking. Not all sufferers experience aura, and other common symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Attacks can vary in frequency and severity with an often enormous impact on someone’s work, family and social lives.

There is no known cause or, sadly, any cures currently on the horizon. What we do know is that most sufferers have a genetic predisposition and that their migraines can be triggered by one or more factors – stress, alcohol intake, the environment, hormones (women) and lack of food or sleep. It’s no longer helpful just to blame chocolate, cheese and red wine, and the best way of pinpointing your particular triggers is to keep a daily ‘migraine diary’.

Professor Peter Goadsby, Professor of Neurology, King’s College London, describes migraine as “an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger”.  (Source: Migraine Trust).

Best treatments for migraine

Most treatments focus on controlling the pain, severity and frequency of attacks via the use of medication.

Having said that, complementary therapies such as Western medical acupuncture – piercing the body with fine, sterile needles at certain points to regulate pain – has had some success in reducing the need for medication and the frequency of attacks..1 This approach has been endorsed by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), particularly for patients who do not respond to certain medications.

Osteopathy is also popular because it helps relieve symptoms whilst understanding and addressing the underlying, sometimes multifactorial, factors involved. The treatment utilises a variety of osteopathic techniques.

Kind words from migraine sufferers

I’ve seen many patients struggling with migraines.  One said:

“I had been suffering from headaches since childhood. Over the years, these had become more frequent and debilitating to the point where it was most unusual for me to have a day free of headache. Headaches became migraines and I felt ‘better’ when the migraines had retreated to the state of ‘mere’ headaches.

I was recommended to Robin who set about releasing the tension in my upper back and neck through a series of manipulations and cranial massage. He also gave me some shoulder and neck exercises to do at home. I was asked to keep a ‘headache diary’ showing severity and frequency in order to plot any improvements.

After around 5 or 6 sessions the headaches became less severe and didn’t turn so readily into migraines. About 8 weeks into treatment I had a major headache which, when it subsided, disappeared completely. Thereafter I began to get not only headache-free days, but headache-free weeks. The cycle had been broken.”

So if you’re suffering from migraines why not book an appointment with me to see what can be done to alleviate the symptoms and cause of your migraines.

 

1 Migraine Trust/Vickers A. et al. Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial BMJ 2004;328;744-9.

Most of us have experienced headaches at some point in our lives.  They can be painful, debilitating, annoying and worrying.  But they also come in many forms.  So, what are the causes and how can we relieve the symptoms?

Headaches are not always as straightforward as you may think, in fact there are over 150 different types – each with its own list of causes and symptoms.  So, how can you possibly know how to deal with yours?

 

What type of headache do I have?

It would be impossible to list all 150 here, but to get you started with identifying the type of headache you may be experiencing, here are some of the most common:

Tension headaches: Most common among adults and teens. A tension headache causes mild to moderate pain and can come and go over time, usually with no other symptoms.

Migraine: A migraine is usually accompanied by intense headaches, often described as a throbbing pain which can last from 4 hours to 3 days, and usually occur between 1-4 times per month. Alongside the headache, sufferers can experience other symptoms such as:

  • sensitivity to light, noise or smell
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • visual disturbance prior to onset of headache

Cluster headaches: these are 3-4 times more likely to affect men than women, can feel like an intense burning pain behind or around the eye or on one side of the head.  Whilst it is the least common type of headache, it can be the most intense and severe.  Cluster headaches leave sufferers unable to follow their usual daily routine.  They cannot lie down or keep still and attacks are often accompanied by eye redness and copious watering and a very runny nose.

So called because they tend to occur in groups, cluster headaches come in many forms:

  • Clusters of headaches 1-3 times per day
  • A prolonged period of headaches lasting 2 weeks to 3 months
  • Headache attacks lasting 15 minutes to 3 hours
  • No headaches at all for months or years, but then they return later.

Sinus headaches:  Sufferers feel a deep constant pain in cheekbones, head and nose. This type of headache can be associated with a cold or other seasonal medical complaint, such as hay-fever.

Hormone headaches: Women often experience headaches when changes in their hormone levels occur, usually during periods, pregnancy or menopause.

 

What causes headaches?

Headaches can incredibly debilitating, so what causes the pain?

Headaches come from a mix of signals sent between the brain and nearby nerves.  These nerves, blood vessels and head muscles switch on and thus send signals to the brain to tell it, it is in pain. Unfortunately, there has been no clear factor to determine why these signals turn on in the first place.

Headaches can be triggered by a variety of things:

  • An illness – such as a cold, fever or virus;
  • A condition such as sinusitis, an ear or throat infection;
  • An injury such as a blow to the head;
  • Emotional stress or depression;
  • A change in sleep patterns;
  • Skipping meals;
  • Taking too much medication;
  • Too much physical activity;
  • Changes in the environment around you – i.e. second-hand smoke, strong smells, noise, lighting and changes in weather;
  • Hereditary – migraines especially, tends to be passed down through generations;
  • In rare cases, TIAs (Transient Ischaemic Attack) etc. which would need a referral to either a GP or A&E.

 

What can I do to ease my headache or symptoms?

In addition to preventative measures such as avoiding the stressors listed above or perhaps eliminating caffeine, many people turn to over the counter medication, relaxation techniques, having a lie down or taking a relaxing bath.

But what other approaches are there that could help relieve your symptoms?

The short answer is Osteopathy – which offers the possibility of relieving the symptoms whilst understanding and addressing the underlying, sometimes multifactorial, factors

A combination of manual therapies such as osteopathy and tailored exercise programmes to suit you as an individual, could lead to long-term control of some types of headaches.

Recent research has shown that manual manipulation treatments such as those performed by an Osteopath, were as effective as prescribed drugs for providing relief from short term chronic headaches, but with fewer side effects than medication.

 

What will an Osteopath do?

Initially, a detailed case history and clinical examination of the patient will be done to eliminate underlying pathology, which may require referral for more specialist assessment.

Osteopaths may use a variety of techniques, all of which could help ease headaches. These could include:

  • Gentle structural osteopathic techniques, including manipulation
  • Gentle soft tissue massage
  • Lymphatic drainage techniques
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Western Acupuncture
  • Tailored exercise and stretching programmes to include in your daily routine
  • Low Level Laser Therapy, when appropriate.

If you would like to discuss headaches which you might be experiencing, Robin would be happy to talk to you with no further obligation.

In the meantime, click here to read testimonials from some of my clients who have found our techniques helpful in easing their symptoms.

Professional, highly Skilled, holistic – Robin’s treatments have helped reduce my back and neck pain which had plagued me for years. He has taught me how to reduce re-occurrences through exercise and lifestyle change – I was very despondent before I came to see him and he continues to help me hugely; I’m very grateful.

“When I sit before you

I often cease to find

The cause of pain and tension

And what lies festered in my mind.

I come to you with open soul

And share the roads I tread

I paint a picture past and present

Whilst you pull and twist my head.

But the reason for my writing

Is that finally I see

That from our conversations

You believe in me.

In my drive to write or teach

I show passion fully out

You sense my desire to achieve

But you never show me doubt.

You encourage me to live my dream

Don’t look back and cry

For the caterpiller is long gone

And so lives the butterfly.”

With much gratitude

I had been suffering from headaches since childhood. Over the years, these had become more frequent and delibitating to the point where it was most unusual for me to have a day free of headache. Headaches became migraines and I felt ‘better’ when the migraines had retreated to the state of ‘mere’ headaches.

I was recommended to Robin as having some useful experience in this area and somewhat sceptically attended our first session. There was no immediate fix nor was one promised. Robin set about releasing the tension in my upper back and neck through a series of manipulations and cranial massage. He also gave me some shoulder and neck exercises to do at home. I was asked to keep a ‘headache diary’ showing severity and frequency in order to plot any improvements.

Initially improvement was slow – 40 years of headaches don’t resolve overnight. After around 5 or 6 sessions, however, I began to feel a slight improvement in that the headaches became less severe and didn’t turn so readily into migraines. About 8 weeks into treatment I had a major headache which, when it subsided, disappeared completely. Thereafter I began to get not only headache-free days, but headache-free weeks. The cycle had been broken.

I still get headaches – I have a stressful life (OK – who hasn’t). But they are the exceptions, no longer the rule; they do not endure and I can often head them off with relaxtion exercises when I feel them coming on.

I still attend regular treatments with Robin and my headache frequency continues to subside. Robin’s approach has without question improved not only the quality of my life but also that of my family, who now have less frequently to endure a bear (literally) with a sore head.

He diagnosed TMJ (temperomandibular joint – a joint hinging the upper and lower jaw bones) dysfunction as a principle cause of my symptoms. This was confirmed by a dentist and further by a consultant neurologist. I have also suffered a number of physical injuries, for example: badly bruised ribs, a ‘cricked’ neck and very recently a skiing injury to my neck and shoulders. In each case, Robin has been able to mitigate the pain, relieve the symptoms and hasten the recovery. I would highly recommend Robin based on my experience to anyone needing osteopathic treatment.