I look at migraines as a build-up of layers of actions, thoughts, behaviors, and consumption that you knowingly or unknowingly repeat at a regular interval in your life. The end result of that layering is a migraine. These are factors within your life that compound each other until you head literally feels like it wants to explode.
I think it is a true chemical reaction inside the brain stem and brain.
In my line of work, successful migraine treatment involves more than a twice a month massage. It requires that the client and I work closely together to figure out their “perfect storm” sequence of actions, thoughts, behaviors, and consumption.
When I take on a client for the symptom of migraine management, there is a conversation I have with them right off the bat that is about observation.
Effective migraine treatment lies in prevention. Once they hit they are endured until they subside – with or without medicine. Managing a migraine only at the point it hits and creates the pain will not result in prevention.
One of the things I start to have a client do is to keep a journal – or at the least mentally keep track – of what happens within their mind, body, and emotions up to week prior to a migraine “hitting”. Within the week before the migraine happens, there are always things that happen that are a pre-cursor to the migraine coming to full maturation. Once I ask the client to start observing this in their life, they can begin to see what I call “red-flags”.
My Red Flag Journey
I am very familiar with this process of layering and looking for red-flags as I was a sufferer for years with migraines. I rarely have a migraine anymore and I want to share with you what I have learned about managing migraines.
I can remember having “bad headaches” as a child. They were less frequent and grew into a more common thing as an adult. As I reached my 20s and then into my 30s, I suffered with migraines that seemed to come on for no reason but were consistent. These headaches would start generally on Saturdays and I would spend Saturday and Sunday, throwing up, sleeping, taking medicine, enduring the pain until they stopped, and being exhausted until Wednesday the following week.
After enduring this for a decade, I tried to pinpoint where they came from. At the time, I owned a home on 3 acres and I was constantly digging with a shovel or working outside. It seemed that the more time I shoveled the worse my neck and shoulders became and that spiked a headache. It seemed that if I spent too much time in the sun, the light or heat would cause a headache. It seemed if I ate more sugar, it caused a headache. If I stayed up later on Friday, I got a headache. I started worrying on Thursdays if I was going to be able to do my yard work that weekend because I thought the chores outside were making me have migraines.
The headaches got so bad that I sold my home and moved into a lower-maintenance home with a small yard to not be in the sun and shoveling in the hopes that my headaches would get better. It did help, but the migraines still came on.
Four years later, when I was pregnant with my 2nd son, I was so horribly sick that I basically lived on rice and vegetables for about 6 months. But unbelievably, I didn’t have many migraines. (It was the only part of that pregnancy that was pleasant! Of course, my son is adorable and so worth it).
At 6 months, I started to feel a little better and could eat a few more varieties of food. My oldest son asked for a treat at the gas station one day on my way home from work and I bought him these red gummy sharks with a red gooey center. I couldn’t resist and had a handful of them with him and I didn’t get sick.
Exactly 24 hours later (5:00 pm), the worst migraine headache I have ever had in my life just hit me without warning. After being without a migraine for about 6 months to having that horrible migraine, I realized that something I did caused it. I went back and wrote down everything I had done or ate for 3 days prior to that migraine showing up. The only thing different that I had done (in the last 6 months, really) was eat those darn gummy sharks.
After experimenting with a few things and having a couple more migraines, I figured out it was the red dye in the gummy sharks. I can have green, yellow and blue dyes. But I CANNOT have red, purple (blue + red), or orange (yellow + red).
Then came the realization of all the different foods that have red dye in them and here is how it fits into my story of successful migraine prevention.
Consumption: my favorite foods are anything red. Pasta sauces, ketchup, hot sauce, cherry flavored anything, strawberry flavored anything, raspberry flavored anything, cinnamon anything – RED anything.
Timing: I could not pinpoint the red dye to my headaches because it takes 12-24 hour for the chemical to do the damage. A full day after I eat it, I get the headache. It didn’t make sense before. I truly feel that something swells in my neck or brain that creates the horrible, chemical reaction.
Behavior: To help manage my sugar intake and weight, I allowed myself a treat on Friday or Saturday nights. My favorite things were – you guessed it- red. Licorice at the movies, gummy bears as a treat on the counter as I walked in and out of the house working in the yard, chocolate covered cinnamon bears, red gummy hearts for valentine’s day – you get the picture. I typically rewarded myself on Friday night and by Saturday afternoon and evening, after I had worked in the yard all day, I was dealing with a migraine.
Behavior: Unresolved anger is the only other thing that will bring on a migraine. If I get angry and allow myself to become unreasonable with it, then I cannot control the outcome of the chemical reactions that anger puts into my bloodstream. It has taught me to be calm and deal with things in my life that bother me before they become a problem.
I no longer eat anything red at all and migraines are rare. I look at the label of everything and anything I eat that is in a package. For that matter, I try not to eat things in packages at all. One of the last migraines I had was a year ago, in March, and it lasted for 3 days. I had eaten pizza from someplace I knew didn’t have red dye in their pizza sauce, except that they had run out of their regular sauce and had replaced it for that day with something they bought local. It had heavy amounts of red dye in it.
Not only did I get that migraine that lasted so long (unusual), I got a kidney and bladder infection, interstitial cystitis (bladder spasms due to irritation), and horrible spasms in my neck and shoulders. The sensitively and allergic reaction to red dye has grown so much that I had a heavy histamine reaction that created the infections.
Actually Not Funny
The funny part is that when I went to the doctor for the infections and cystitis, the medicine they prescribed for the cystitis was – you will never believe this – a pill loaded with red dye. They said the dye stuns the bladder and that is what they use to calm it down. Ironically, after doing some research I have found that interstitial cystitis can many times begin from dye sensitivities in many women. Then Doctors treat it with a dye and it helps, then perpetuates the problem so you have to keep taking it.
I just drank water until I could float and took slippery elm until I got enough of that in me to coat my bladder and it stopped – and didn’t dare eat pizza for 6 months. Now I order my pizza with white sauce or no sauce. My story is unique (or not) to red dye and migraines.
Most of my clients who suffer from migraines have 1-2 triggers like me. Once we can identify them, they begin to experience control for the first time in a long time. They can typically start to see other flags that are further out and behavioral management becomes their migraine prevention-friend. For those who are complicated cases, they have 3 or 4 triggers that all create migraine tendencies but when you combine all of them at one time then you really have a “perfect storm”.
My Latest Client with Migraines
A couple of months ago, I took on a new client who was trying to find a treatment alternative for controlling her migraines. I worked with her 3 times and she hasn’t had a migraine since. Now, it wasn’t necessarily the massage treatment, although it helped stabilize her physically. It was her being able to so quickly define her “red-flags”.
This woman was around 35 and her migraines only started becoming a weekly or daily problem about a year ago. She could tie this in with a hysterectomy but her hormone levels were fine so she was confused.
So, let me give you the answer that we found for her migraines and then show you how it all works together to create her “perfect storm”.
Her answer was:
A twisted pelvis from a foot injury years ago, that the hysterectomy surgery was aggravating, behavioral patterns at work, and her sugar intake in general.
She sits at a desk for hours working on a computer for her job and liked to sit on that foot that was injured. The problem was 2 parts. It was aggravating her foot and creating more problems in an old injury (scar Tissue) and causing her pelvis to twist further out of balance because it was tilted for hours on end. As her surgery healed inside, it set the ligaments to a position of imbalance outside because it healed while she sat on her foot.
Her pelvis was “stuck” sideways. Because of that she was walking funny and creating more issues with her old foot injury. It was responding by building scar tissue and fascia restriction which was throwing out her pelvis further.
Her pubic bone was unstable and would pop randomly – exactly 3 days later, her migraine would hit. It would travel through her low back, lock up her mid back really bad for a day, and then hit her head.
Sugar wasn’t a problem unless she had a lot of it. She contacted me right after Christmas – dealing with a non-stop headache pattern. She is selective now about her sugar intake and can tell.
Her perfect storm? Stress, fatigue, sitting on her foot, working long hours, not stretching to help her pelvis NOT pop, and eating sugar all day.
I work with her foot, pelvis and back. She works with better work strategies (less hours and better posture), resting well, stretching and self-care, and improving her diet.
Now if she gets a “flag” that her migraine is coming on due to one of the above, she knows that she has some options. Below is how she works with her own cycle.
1. Low back pain means it is just starting. She can stretch and watch her sugar intake help herself the most at this point. I can help prevent the migraine here. If this flag cannot be managed by her and she is experiencing this flag every couple of days, she needs to get a massage to help her body balance again.
2. Upper back pain means she ignored the first flag or she needs to rebalance her body with massage. She is going to have to do more things to get her back to feel better. Stretch, rest, take a bath and really watch her sugar intake. She might have a dull headache but can possibly get it to go back down. This is a good time to see me – I can still help at this point but it may take 2 appointments closer together.
3. Neck pain and mild headache means she ignored the 2 primary flags and may or may not be able to stop the migraine run-away-train. I had her ask her doctor and she can take her migraine medicine at this point (even though she is not horrible yet) to ward off the migraine that is most likely going to happen – he said yes. Interestingly enough, her desire for sugar escalates in this flag.
The Work After the Migraine
Once she stabilized after the migraine she needs to take inventory. If the first 2 flags come quickly with no time to stabilize, then she needs behavior modification and maybe some bodywork more frequently to help stabilize again.
You can see, though, that if she did not help herself that massage alone cannot help her avoid the migraine. Prevention is Key! Knowing what to prevent is the best key she can have.
How you Can Help Your Client with Their “Perfect Storm” Migraine Cycle
This truly becomes what we call Preventative Medicine that is about behavior modification.
• Your client needs to keep a simple “Flag Journal”. This helps them walk through their daily patterns and start identifying the body feelings and habits that start them down the path of the headache. • Tell your client to really pay attention to ANY detail that helps them to feel and become sensitive to more of what is going in their body. • You can have them schedule in with you more frequently – even for shorter session. You may be a key player in helping them identify the primary patterns that occur prior to the full-blown migraine pattern. • Working consistently with the pre-patterns can stop the migraine before it cycles. • Pain and inflammation are also triggers for many migraine cycles. Being able to help your client manage their pain better is sometimes enough prevention that the migraine does not cycle. • KEEP DETAILED CHARTING NOTES FOR THIS CLIENT. This is your “Flag Journal” for your client. I can’t express this enough. The notes I took for my client’s sessions in many instances helped the client identify things that made huge progress for their flag-prevention efforts. • Schedule these client’s appointments at a frequency that helps them not only prevent the migraine at the point the body will let you. But that also helps their body heal from these damaging cycles. • You need to be proactive at helping them find that schedule. They can heal and their massage sessions can be spaced out further as they heal.
In my opinion, migraines are best treated when the treatment occurs before the suffering of the migraine occurs. The more pain, inflammation, and cycling occurs for these people, the more frequent they experience their “Perfect Storm”. Massage can be a successful application for migraines depending on WHEN you apply your skills in the cycle of migraines.
Prevention is always the key
I would like to invite you to consider learning the Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminar hands-on training. One of our unique factors is that we break through pain cycles without creating more inflammation and pain.
Migraine sufferers typically do not tolerate Trigger Pointing and deep tissue. So, what do you do then to create enough change to help them? PPS Bodywork.
We have solutions for you that create huge change for their body with simple hands-on techniques. Watch our free videos on headache solutions and see how you can gain new skills and tools to help these people who are suffering with migraines.