Migraines are intense headaches that can cause severe throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side of the head. Migraines can significantly impact daily life and may require medical intervention.

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Your Guide to Understanding Migraine

What is Migraine?

Migraines are a type of headache characterized by intense, throbbing or pulsating pain, often focused on one side of the head. They can last for hours or even days and can significantly impair daily functioning.

In addition to the excruciating pain, migraines are often accompanied by other symptoms that can vary from person to person. These may include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light (photophobia), sensitivity to sound (phonophobia), dizziness, and visual disturbances such as flashing lights or blind spots (known as an aura). Some individuals may experience warning signs prior to the onset of a migraine, known as a prodrome, which can include changes in mood, food cravings, or increased thirst.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Migraine?

Physiotherapy services offer a unique approach to alleviate migraines. While migraines are primarily neurological in nature, physiotherapists can play a valuable role in managing and reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines. They focus on addressing potential contributing factors such as muscle tension, postural imbalances, and neck dysfunction.

Through techniques like manual therapy, including soft tissue release and joint mobilizations, physiotherapists can help alleviate muscle tension and restore proper alignment, particularly in the neck and upper back region. Additionally, they may provide exercises to improve neck strength and flexibility, as well as relaxation techniques to manage stress and promote overall well-being. By adopting a holistic approach, physiotherapy can complement traditional migraine management strategies and provide relief for individuals suffering from migraines.

What causes Migraine?

The exact cause of migraines is not fully understood, but there are several factors that are believed to contribute to their development. Migraines are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.

One potential cause of migraines is abnormal brain activity. It is believed that certain changes in the brain, such as fluctuations in neurotransmitter levels or blood flow, can trigger migraine attacks. These changes can lead to the release of inflammatory substances and sensitization of nerves, resulting in the intense pain experienced during a migraine episode.

What treatments might help Migraine?

Treatment options can help improve migraines and provide relief from the associated symptoms. Here are some straightforward ways that treatment can help:

  • Medications: There are various medications available to treat migraines. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective for mild to moderate migraines. Prescription medications such as triptans are commonly used for more severe migraines. Newer medications like ubrogepant, rimegepant, and atogepant have shown promise in treating acute migraines.
  • Relaxation techniques: Engaging in relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can help reduce stress and manage migraines. These techniques promote overall relaxation and may alleviate the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Temperature therapy: Applying hot or cold compresses to the forehead, scalp, or neck can help relieve migraine pain. Some people find that using ice packs or warm towels on the affected areas can provide soothing relief.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Making certain lifestyle changes can contribute to better migraine management. This includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding triggers such as specific foods or beverages, managing stress levels, and engaging in regular exercise.
  • Alternative remedies: Some individuals find relief by exploring alternative remedies for migraines. This may include techniques such as acupuncture, biofeedback, or herbal supplements. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional before trying alternative treatments to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Signs of Migraine:

Migraines can cause a variety of symptoms, and they can differ from person to person. Here are some common signs to watch for:

  • Headache pain: Migraines often involve a moderate to severe headache that is usually throbbing or pulsating. The pain is typically felt on one side of the head.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound: Bright lights, loud noises, and even strong smells can become bothersome during a migraine episode. Many people find relief by seeking out a quiet, darkened room.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Migraines can trigger feelings of queasiness, and some individuals may experience nausea or vomiting during an attack.
  • Aura: Some people with migraines may experience an aura before the onset of the headache. Auras are usually visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots. They can also involve tingling sensations in the face or limbs.
  • Fatigue and irritability: Migraines can leave you feeling tired and drained, both during and after an episode. Mood changes, including irritability or depression, are also common.

Symptoms of Migraine:

Migraines can manifest with a variety of symptoms, which can differ from person to person. Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:

  • Headache pain: Migraines typically cause a moderate to severe headache that is often described as throbbing or pulsating. The pain is usually felt on one side of the head.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound: Many people with migraines become highly sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds during an episode. Being in a noisy environment or exposed to intense light can worsen the symptoms.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Migraines can lead to feelings of nausea or even vomiting. Some individuals may experience stomach discomfort or have an upset stomach during an attack.
  • Aura: Certain individuals may experience an aura before the onset of a migraine. An aura involves temporary sensory disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or experiencing tingling or numbness in the face or limbs. Not all migraine sufferers experience an aura.
  • Fatigue and irritability: Migraines can leave individuals feeling tired, drained, and lacking energy. Mood changes, such as irritability or depression, are also commonly associated with migraines.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Migraine?

If you are experiencing migraines and are considering seeking help from a physiotherapist, there are a few indicators that can suggest it may be the right time to schedule an appointment:

  • Frequency and severity of migraines: If your migraines are becoming more frequent, intense, or are significantly impacting your daily life, it may be beneficial to consult with a healthcare professional for additional support.
  • Inadequate relief from conventional treatments: If you have already tried conventional treatments, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, and have not found sufficient relief, it could be worth exploring alternative therapies offered by physiotherapists.
  • Desire for holistic approaches: If you prefer a more holistic and natural approach to managing your migraines, these healthcare professionals can offer treatment options that focus on addressing underlying causes, lifestyle modifications, and non-invasive techniques.
  • Identification of triggers: If you have identified specific triggers that consistently lead to migraines, physiotherapists can provide guidance on how to manage and minimize exposure to these triggers.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
Interior Lobby at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic in Mississauga