Do you know what causes migraines? No??? You are not alone!

Worldwide, migraines affect nearly 15% of the population or approximately 1 billion people – with the highest percentage in Western countries and only slightly lower in Asia & African countries

An early description consistent with migraines was found in the Ebers papyrus, written around 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt. In 200 BC, writings from the Hippocratic School of Medicine described the visual aura that can precede the headache and a partial relief occurring through vomiting.

While many treatments for migraines have been attempted, including trepanation which was performed up to and including the 17th century, it was not until 1868 that the first effective substances for treating migraines was found. During the 20th century with better study design effective preventative measures were found and confirmed, all of them pharmalogical.

So what causes migraines?
The simple answer is we don’t really know. It is thought to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors, however the underlying cause is unknown. Many people have triggers which can bring on the symptoms of a migraine – stress, heat, hormone changes for women, not enough sleep, too much sleep, chocolate, alcohol, changes in the barometric pressure, strong smells, bright or flashing lights.

What can we do?

As I mentioned, preventive migraine medications have been developed over the last 150 years or so and are considered to effective if they reduce the frequency or severity of the migraine attacks by at least 50%. Acute migraine attacks can be treated with simple or combination analgesics or triptans, however not all attacks respond to acute treatment.

Some patients with migraine have contraindications to triptans such as vascular diseases or pregnancy, and triptans are not effective or approved during the aura phase of a migraine attack. So we must look to alternative therapies.

Facts & Figures
There have been many alternative therapy studies done on reducing the effects and frequency of migraines with many massage therapy studies focusing on cervical (neck) muscle massage treatment or trigger point work on neck, shoulders and head.

A systemic review conducted in 2010 on the use of massage therapy, spinal manipulation therapy, physiotherapy, relaxation therapy and chiropractic therapy showed that while the research trials and studies have all been substantially flawed and show no absolute conclusions, there is a growing amount of positive evidence supporting alternative therapies as an alternative to medication.

So what does that mean?
As there is no absolute answer as to the cause of migraines, in my opinion there can be no absolute answer for how to treat them. If medication is effective when it reduces the severity and frequency of attacks by 50% and this is working for you, then stick with it! But what if combining other therapies is just as effective? Isn’t it worth exploring?

To see if massage can help with your migraines, contact our Remedial Massage therapist Jo Grainger at HealthSpace Brookvale & HealthSpace Lane Cove

References Manual Therapies for Migraine: A Systematic Review
Aleksander Chaibi, Peter J. Tuchin, Michael Bjørn Russell
J Headache Pain. 2011 April; 12(2): 127–133. Published online 2011 February 5
PMCID: PMC3072494

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