Almost 90% of the Australian population will suffer from headache, over the duration of a year.
These headaches can be the result of a range of different conditions.
The most common primary headache categories are migraines and tension headaches.
Secondary causes may be a neck disorder, vascular disorder, an infection, the side effects of a drug, or a host of other causes.
The “bible” of headaches, The International Classification of Headache Disorders (3rd edition), devotes 86 pages of different secondary headaches, 15 pages to migraine alone, and has 144 pages on headaches, in total!
Our practitioner at Afferentation Chiropractic has a special interest in treating migraines and their various subtypes.
The most common types are migraine with aura (sometimes called “classic migraine”) and migraine without aura (sometimes called “common migraine”). In the Global Burden of Disease Survey 2010, migraine was ranked as the third most prevalent disorder and seventh-highest specific cause of disability, worldwide!
How do I know if I have a migraine?
Migraines have quite a distinct pattern of pain and duration. Usually the headaches experienced with migraine recur episodically (it could be weekly, monthly, a few times a year, or even a few times in a lifetime).
The migraine attacks may last 4-72 hours, and result in a moderate to severe headache on one side of the head, pulsating in quality, are aggravated by routine physical activity and are usually associated with nausea and/or sensitivity to light or sound.
If the type of migraine is “migraine with aura”, the headache is usually preceded by a “prodrome”. The prodrome is a reversible group of symptoms which may include the sufferer seeing flashing lights or sparkles, temporarily losing vision in some part of their visual field. The prodrome may also include a huge variety of other potential symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, hypersensitivity to touch, or affect the use or understanding of language.
The prodome is usually followed by the full-blown headache.
Your headache is more likely to be classified as a migraine if it has at least two of the following:
- one-sided head pain
- pulsating in nature
- moderate to severe intensity
- aggravated by or causing avoidance of routine physical activity
In addition to the above symptoms, to be a migraine the headache must be 4-72 hrs in duration, and include nausea / vomiting, light or sound sensitivity.
What causes a migraine?
There have been a number of theories presented around what causes migraines. If you suffer with migraines, you have probably noticed that there are specific triggers.
It may start off with a stiff neck, it may follow stress or your hormonal cycle or there may be certain foods or chemicals that triggers the migraine. We know there are lots of triggers. But this does not necessarily explain the underlying cause.
More recent advances in technology/imaging as allowed us to understand the brain and nervous system better.
It is now believed that migraines are a problem in fuel delivery to groups of nerve cells. This will cause your nerve cells to function less than optimal, but it will not show up on typical imaging like CT scans or MRIs.
Migraines can affect different areas of the brain, which is why migraines can manifest differently from individual to individual.
What triggers a migraine?
Migraine sufferers typically have a number of “triggers” that work together to set the migraine off.
In some people, a single trigger on its own can be enough. In others, a number of triggers combine to initiate the attack. In the latter case, it can be tricky to work out what the trigger is, as the final factor can be different each time.
Typical triggers for migraine include:
- Hormonal changes (yes, men have hormone cycles too)
- Dietary (skipping meals, specific foods such as dried fruit, yeasty breads, chocolate or cheese)
- Food additives (for instance Nutrasweet or MSG)
- Drinks (especially wine and caffeinated drinks)
- Sensory stimuli like bright lights and strong smells
- Change in sleep and wake pattern
- Physical exertion
- Weather changes (change in barometric pressure)
- Spinal issues that lead to irritation of the nerves connecting to the trigeminocervical nucleus
How can Afferentation Chiropractic help with migraine?
The first task of your chiropractor is to correctly diagnose and classify the headache.
We will identify if you have migraine, or if there is another cause of the headache from your history and examination. We will rule out any worrying signs that your headache may be due to more sinister causes.
Secondly, your chiropractor will help identify possible triggers of the migraine. As mentioned, above, there are many potential triggers. We will discuss these with you, to try to work out which ones are relevant to your experience.
Lastly, a thorough examination of musculoskeletal triggers, imbalances in brain function and in particular areas that may affect fuel delivery will be assessed.
At Afferentation Chiropractic we will assist in mapping out nutritional triggers and hormonal triggers, or co manage with experts in these areas if necessary.
It is our experience that some patients have received great relief from neck adjustments, whereas other times a neck adjustment has actually triggered a migraine.
Our chiropractor and functional neurologist Øystein Kåsa will make a thorough examination to determine what will be appropriate treatment in each individual case.
Often the initial treatments will be with gentle techniques to restore your nervous system function. Rest assured, there are many other options than neck adjustments and we will work within your comfort zone as well as your clinical requirements.
It is our belief that by restoring and increasing brain function, your tolerance to migraine triggers will increase. With removal of triggers and an increase in tolerance we expect a reduction in frequency, severity and/or duration of your migraines.
What can I do to help my Chiropractor identify my headache?
If you are unsure what sort of headache you have, keep a headache diary for period of time covering approximately three occurrences, and bring along to your consultation at Afferentation Chiropractic.
The headache diary should include when the headache started, how long it lasted, what symptoms you had before or during the headache, its intensity (out of 10) and whether anything triggered it.
You may want to use the app “Migraine Buddy” for convenient collection of data. Your practitioner will be able to use the information you have collected, along with questions you will be asked during your consultation, to form a diagnosis.
Afferentation Chiropractic are armed with unique and valuable diagnostics and techniques to help you with your migraine and headache.