Did you know that June is National Headache and Migraine Awareness Month? It sure is! This month provides an opportunity for awareness to grow surrounding an invisible disease that cripples the life of many. Since this month is raising awareness, I thought I’d take the time to share my migraine journey, as well as my experience with different treatment options.
My goal with this is that, if you are struggling with chronic migraines and have not asked your doctor about trying some of these options, you may want to try! The causes of headaches and migraines are so unknown and not understood in the medical community that treatment looks different for everyone.
*Make sure you talk to your doctor or health care provider before making changes to your treatment plan! I am not a physician!!
I have had chronic migraines since I was seven years old. For years, I remember them getting worse and worse. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason to them for as long as I can remember. I would just wake up in the morning with a headache that pounded throughout the day. I couldn’t be around flashing lights or even lights that were too bright, loud noises, fast motion, car rides, inclosed spaces- all these things and way more made them worse.
They expanded into nausea in some cases, and they never really hurt in the same places. It got to the point where I had just learned to push through the pain because I knew nothing would help it. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t read, could barely keep my eyes open at times, and would even experience blurry and blacked out vision.
Eventually, I began seeing a team of neurologists and neurosurgeons who ran tests and put me on medication. As detailed below, the medications weren’t effective for me, and I absolutely hated the way they made me feel.
I wanted answers. I wanted to know why I was feeling bad, rather than take medicine to cover up the symptoms. In the process, I learned you HAVE to be an advocate for your own health. Unfortunately, in most cases, doctors are trained to treat your symptoms with medication, rather than look for the root cause of your problem. Thankfully, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO’s instead of MD’s) are coming onto the scene to change the way this happens and treat the whole patient rather than the symptoms (you can read a great post explaining the difference HERE!)
So I asked for more tests! Tried physical therapy! Tried diet change! Added exercise!
We tried A LOT of things. Here’s what worked for me and what didn’t:
FIRST OFF, EXERCISE.
I’m so serious on this one. I hated the gym and never went before January. However, if you have a mental disease of any kind and/or are on antidepressants and other medications affecting the chemicals in your brain, you NEED to be exercising. ALL of those chemicals are controlled in your brain, and by getting your endorphins pumping, you are only going to help yourself.
- Neuromuscular Massage
- Deep Tissue Massage
Amazing in every way. Massages have been great for me to release the muscular tension that adds to my headaches. More on that in the Physical Therapy section.
- Daith piercing
This one works for a lot of people because their headaches are being caused by a pressure point in their ear! The earring sits on top of the pressure point and causes relief for many people. This wasn’t the root of my headaches though, and I eventually took it out. *Go to a tattoo parlor for this one so they do it with a needle, not a gun!
- Tricyclic Antidepressants
- Muscle Relaxant
- Combination Medication
- Serotonin-norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI)
- Selective Serotonin Receptor Agonist
Truly, I didn’t like any of the medications that I was on because of the side effects. The Effexor caused me to have serious, vivid nightmares- ones where I woke up and tried to figure out of these things had really happened to me. This has been known to happen with antidepressants, but can cause serious issues (like actually making you go mentally insane) and NEEDS to be reported to your doctor if it is happening. The gabapentin was used to treat neurological pain, but I slept like I was in a coma and it was almost impossible to get up in the morning- and even then I had a medication hangover all day. The SSRA’s are used at the onset of a migraine, and I found that the Sumatriptan still works well if I really need it. However, you can’t take these more than 2 times a week or it can make headaches worse and cause other damage in your body.
- Dry Needling
- STEM Therapy
- Cervical Spine Traction
- Cervical Denneroll
- Massage Therapy
- Sub-Occipital Releases
- Chiropractic Care
Physical Therapy was by far one of the most successful things for me. Although migraines are an “invisible disease”, I was constantly tense and had massive trigger points in my neck and shoulders because of the chronic pain. Dry needling has been an actual God-sent. We tried many different techniques, including bringing in acupuncture techniques on my face, temples, and neck. I had needles everywhere, but the tried-and-true was working out the trigger points that made my back and neck so tense, relieving pressure and strain on my head. They coupled this with the other therapies mentioned to prevent too much stiffness or pain after dry needling and it was amazing
- Botox- I’ve gotten botox twice now, and all I can say is it’s very painful. It involves 36 shots to the face, temples, base of skull, neck and shoulders in attempts to paralyze muscles that are over firing. I know that my physical therapist noticed a huge difference in my trigger points with the injections! The trigger points were far less active, especially in my shoulders, and thus not as tight leading into my neck and head.
- MRI (with and w/o contrast):
- Brain: Clear
- C-Spine: Small perinatal cysts at C6/C7 and C7/T1
- I had a lot of labs done, but overall, tests were run for levels involving:
- Vitamin D
- Gluten: allergy/sensitivity & Celiac Disease
- I had a lot of labs done, but overall, tests were run for levels involving:
I have made additions to my everyday life with vitamins and supplements according to the blood work that was run. This includes adjusting hormone levels and increasing very low iron and iodine levels in my system.
- Eliminating most Dairy: I’m lactose intolerant, and I’ve noticed doing this reduces the headaches I get throughout the day
- Eliminating most Gluten: My gluten testing came back as outside of the range for Celiac Disease, but still within the range to be intolerant to it. I am also at the high end, close to the Celiac range- putting me “at risk” to develop it in the future if I continue eating it. In over a month of being gluten free, my headaches were eliminated until ~that time of the month~. We know now my headaches are definitely associated with inconsistent hormone levels around that time, as well as other elements as mentioned previously.
*I don’t beat myself up for eating small bits of dairy or gluten, but I do feel awful when I eat them. It’s been all about remembering how I feel when I cheat, which makes me not want to! I’ve been thinking about it in the sense of I’m “poisoning” my body when I do eat dairy/gluten. In the same way, I wouldn’t eat peanuts if I was allergic without expecting a serious reaction, I try to treat dairy/gluten the same.
Keep in mind, each of these things worked or didn’t for me- but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the same for you! Check out all your options, and let’s get chronic migraines under control so that less people are struggling with them. To learn more about chronic headaches & migraines, check out the American Migraine Foundation’s website HERE.
Thanks for checking out the long post! I hope it is helpful for those of you out there struggling too.