Photo Credit: Dawid Sobowski on Unsplash
More Pain-Free Days!
How to Prevent & Treat Migraines!
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you). Rest assured, I am very particular about what I recommend.
There are few worse feelings than an aching head. Depending on the severity, you lose focus and ambition. But knowing whether you have a migraine or a headache is vital to treating it efficiently.
First Step: Identify Headache vs. Migraine
Sure. No one wants to admit that pain they get every time they have wine or whenever they get a whiff of too much cologne is a migraine but knowing is half the battle!
Most people think the distinguishing features between headaches and migraines are pain and duration, but cluster HEADACHES are commonly believed to be one of the most painful afflictions, and headaches can last 30 minutes all the way up to one week. Shitty right? So how can you know? Typically, headache pain is mild to severe and occurs both sides of your head and is often described as dull pressure. Additionally, pain is the only thing going on; there are no other accompanying symptoms. Generally, we’ve all experienced tension or sinus headaches, which are the most common types and follow the basic profile.
Migraines, on the other hand, are moderate to severe more intense pain, frequently located on one side of the head and often described as throbbing. Migraine attacks make performing daily tasks quite challenging and are associated with one or more of the following symptoms:
- nausea and/or vomiting
- pain behind one eye or ear
- pain in the temples
- seeing spots or flashing lights
- sensitivity to light and/or sound
- temporary vision loss
Migraines also can come with and without auras and may have warning symptoms up to 2 days before an actual migraine begins. There are various factors that can bring on a migraine called triggers such as anxiety, allergies, smoke, contraceptives, alcohol, hormones, food (think chocolate, nitrates, wine, MSG), disruption to your sleep patterns, and the weather. Woooo Migraines!
How to Treat a Headache
Luckily, treating a headache is pretty straightforward. You can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen OR try a relaxation technique. (Or both!)
How to Treat a Migraine
Ah. Now, this gets a little tricksy. I will classify treating migraines into prevention and during an attack.
First, if you get more than 3-5 migraines a month TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT MIGRAINE PREVENTION. Taking any migraine medicine or OTC pain reliever more than 10x days a month could result in rebound headaches. (SHIT 😱).
Second, prevention while a HUGE part of the equation, will not stop migraines completely. It will reduce your suffering, however, and that is usually a vast improvement and a godsend for any migraine sufferer.
Ok. So now that the PSA and disclaimer are out of the way.
The first step in prevention is to determine is your triggers. The best way to do that is to maintain a migraine diary. Personally, I like the app My Pain Diary, because it automatically tracks the weather, so you don’t have to go back and enter that in to see if that is one of your triggers. It also has a handy little graphic of the head for you to select where your pain is located which will help you clarify if you have migraines or headaches.
Once you’re clear(ish) on your triggers, you can start making lifestyle changes. If you become aware that you get migraines after you eat hot dogs or cold cuts you might determine that nitrites are a trigger and you may want to remove them from your diet. Or if you get a migraine when you notice high-stress events in your life, you can learn stress reduction and management techniques to control your stress response. If you get a migraine everytime your sleep routine is disrupted, you may want to be strict on ensuring you go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time, even on weekends.
Other preventive lifestyle enhancements such as ensuring you stay hydrated, incorporate movement into your daily routine, don’t chew gum (it stresses your jaw which can be a trigger), and eat a balanced diet high in Omega-3s can go a long way towards reducing the number of migraines you get each month.
Second, to lifestyle changes, I cannot recommend a Cefaly device enough!! I have been using mine for about 18 months, and it has reduced the number of migraines I get from about 4-6 a month down to 1-2 every 1.5 months. A Cefaly device is an FDA approved device for migraine treatment. It currently comes in 3 models, one for prevention, one for acute migraine attack treatment, and one that does both. It attaches magnetically to an electrode on your forehead to deliver precise micro-impulses to the upper branch of the trigeminal nerve to either relieve the headache pain during a migraine attack or prevent future attacks. I’m in love, and I am super pumped about the new models and FDA approval for the treatment of acute attacks. People are getting relief from this and reducing their reliance on prescriptions. Which is amazing! You do need a prescription to obtain one.
Finally, within prevention, there is medication. I also use medication to prevent my migraines, and it is something I am hoping to phase out but have been very grateful for. When I was diagnosed with migraines in the early 2000s, I was getting 2-3 migraines a WEEK. It was cray, and I was very thankful 🙏 when the medication I was prescribed started to help and reduced that number down to 2-4 a month. However, I am not a doctor so I will not recommend or break down the different preventative medications. Just know they exist, and if you suffer from migraines, you should discuss a prevention plan with your primary care provider (PCP) or a neurologist.
Your doctor will help you determine the best combo of lifestyle, Cefaly, and meditation to prevent migraines.
DURING AN MIGRAINE (TREATMENT)
Ok, so as you can see there is LOTS and LOTS you can do to prevent a migraine, but unfortunately, they won’t all be stopped. ESPECIALLY if one of your triggers is the weather or hormones. You just can’t stop either of those blessed events.
Medication & Cefaly
“Fun” stat: migraines are 2-3 more common in people with nasal allergies. HOORAY! 🙄
If you are one of these lucky genetic lottery winners, you may get relief by popping some allergy meds such as antihistamines or nasal steroids. Relieving your allergies, in general, may help any headache symptoms, so if you have bad allergies discuss the pros and cons of an allergy shot with your PCP.
Depending on the severity of your migraine pain relief starts with OTC medication such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Next in line are abortive migraine medicines, called triptans prescribed by your doctor. These are the ones you see in magazines and on TV with names like Imitrex. As with preventive medications, there are a few, and you should discuss their pros and cons with your PCP. The most important thing to remember with all of them is that they are most effective when taken at the onset of symptoms, and often a hot beverage with a little caffeine can increase the efficacy and speed at which they take effect. I don’t know why that works but it’s been proven by the Mayo Clinic.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to own a Cefaly Device, you can use it during an attack for a 60-minute cycle and for 8 out of 10 users they see significant pain relief.
I have mixed results with OTC and abortive migraine medicine. Up until recently, Cefaly warned that it was only approved for 20 min a day and could not provide any guidance on using it (in the US) for treatment of migraine attacks (thanks, FDA😋). If I catch a migraine early, my medicine works relatively well, if I don’t, well then, I’m down for the count, and that’s where the remaining advice comes in. Because, if you have read this far, I assume you also suffer from migraines and agree that well, they SUCKKKKKKKKK and you seriously consider asking someone to hit you with a sledgehammer, so you can just sleep through it.
So, whether you are waiting for drugs to kick in or are cursing big pharma for not having cracked the migraine code and making better drugs here are my top tips for migraine relief sans big pharma:
If you are lucky enough to live in a state where marijuana is legal (and I am) you can use CBD. CBD stands for Cannabidiol and is a chemical compound found in the Cannabis plant. The pain and medical benefits from Cannabis are becoming more widely accepted and commonly known as more research is getting legit scientific peer review which is equating to more people are turning to CBD as a way to treat their migraines. Based on how you ingest CBD, migraine relief can happen in as little as 5-45 minutes vs. 2-6 hours with abortive medication. CBD oil doesn’t have psychoactive properties and has minimal side effects which are a tremendous benefit to migraine sufferers.
If you can, sleep, if not, find a calm and peaceful room. Make it dark and pleasant smelling (see essential oil below). I can’t always sleep, so laying or sitting in the dark, not so much an option. I find a red-hued light (if you have smart lighting) or candlelight the least offensive lighting option. Investing in a dimmable salt lamp with a lovely pink glow or pleasing candleholders can at least make the atmosphere less painful on the eyes. Depending on where you live, drowning out the noise of your neighborhood or kids might also be tantamount to relieving your pain. Headphones and soothing nature sounds, I love a light rain or thunderstorm, can help build a cocoon of calm. A great resource called https://simplynoise.com/ has white, brown, and pink noise, as well as downloads available for a thunderstorm (free) and a babbling brook (purchase).
Water is your friend, and hydration is salvation. If you have a lemon to add to your water all the better! Hot beverages like tea or warm water with lemon and honey can help soothe and relax you. BONUS: it will help reduce the stress response too. Peppermint or Ginger Tea are fantastic choices if you get nausea with your migraines as they help ease upset stomach and relax tense stomach muscles.
If caffeine is a trigger for you BE CAUTIOUS and only drink a little bit. As written above we noted that a bit of caffeine can enhance the pain relieving effects of acetaminophen and aspirin, so a cup of coffee might be just the thing. (Thanks, Mayo Clinic!) There is also anecdotal evidence that drinking a Coke will help alleviate or speed the relief of a migraine. This is usually my last resort because I don’t drink soda and I think at this point it is a powerful placebo. However, many people SWEAR that it’s not just the caffeine. After all, Coke was first formulated as headache medicine! 🤷♀️
I’ve gotten somewhat familiar with the headachey essential oils and have the biggies laying around my home. Lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and/or rosemary have pain relieving properties in addition to being pleasant smelling when your nose is sensitive. According to Draxe.com the best way to use essential oils for a headache or migraine is to diffuse them into the air. Thankfully, this is currently my favorite way. I’m in love with the diffuser in our bedroom which can run all night.
Fun Fact: You can use Vicks or another essential oil balm on your tense neck muscles to help relieve tension and pain. You get a double whammy of relief and the benefit of your sinuses clearing!
There are a number of yoga poses, primarily inversions, that will help you ease tense muscles. Check out Yoga Journal for poses to help you relieve and prevent headaches. You can also do a simple inversion of hanging off the edge of your bed, couch or allow yourself to dangle your head upside-down using a yoga ball for as long as you feel comfortable. This increases the blood flow to your brain and providing more oxygen. Some research has shown that migraines are caused by or are a symptom of a lack of oxygen in our brain. Inversion helps relieve that.
Massage of pressure points is also helpful. If you have someone who will rub your neck for you, this can also increase endorphins which help with the pain response. Check out this video for 11 Pressure Points for Headache Relief.
It is unclear whether migraine is due to inflammation or another cause. Therefore, everyone responds to heat or cold therapy a little differently. Find out which one works best for you. Heat is relaxing for tense muscles, while cold or ice packs has a numbing effect on the pain. You may find that you like a combination of both. I do. I prefer cold on my head and heat on my neck, and everywhere else that seems to tense up in response to a migraine.
A cold gel pack can be great, but I love to use these things called Be Koool because they stick to your forehead and relieve some of the pain. Then a heating pad can feel amazing and be just what you need to ease tense muscles.
Another excellent temperature therapy option is to take a hot shower or bath. You get the benefit of warming up your whole body not just part of you. If you take a shower, you also get the benefit of steam which may help unblock your sinuses if you’re an allergy sufferer. If you go for a bath, adding Epsom Salt gives you an added benefit of magnesium which can help relieve tense muscles, pull out toxins, and help with migraines in general. Just remember to drink lots of water afterward. Salt dehydrates you and dehydration can be a trigger.
When all else fails (and sometimes it will) learn to follow your breath. This is the simplest meditation technique; you focus on your breathing, how it feels entering your nose, the rise and fall of your chest, and how it feels exiting your nose. Try to release any other thought or sensation and just focus on your breathing. It’s ok to become distracted. When you notice you are, refocus on your breath.
The 4-7-8 Breath is also fantastic at helping relieve pain. You breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7 counts, and breathe out for 8 counts.
You can also:
- try crystal therapy
- apply acupressure
- eat bananas for potassium
- try magnesium spray or supplements
- receive acupuncture and/or chiropractic
- drink cayenne pepper in your lemon water or tea
- use yellow-tinted glasses to help with light from computers & overhead fluorescent lighting
all of which show varying results. Yes, even crystal therapy.
Disclaimer, this is not an exhaustive list. I believe there is more you can try. Primarily, these are all techniques I have personal experience with and have offered as guidance to other migraine sufferers in the past. Everyone is different, and some options will work well for you and others will work ok and some will not work.
As you can see, there are quite a few traditional and non-traditional treatments available. Mainly because head pain has been around since forever and the brain is still largely a mystery. Thankfully, we live in an age where people have more access to information than ever before, and we learning more at an increasingly rapid rate.
If you’d like help identifying your triggers and setting up prevention techniques, contact me about a custom coaching package. I’d love to work with you and your doctor to get you on the road to more pain-free days!