Migraines are not just headaches. In fact, not all migraines include a headache as a symptom. One of the most defining features is an aura that precedes most other symptoms. Some people experience this as a visual disturbance, such as jagged lines moving across their field of vision. It could also come with nausea or sensitivity to light. Laying down in a dark room at this point is enough to stop the migraine from fully developing for some people.
What are Migraines?
Despite the variation in symptoms, the most common type of migraine combines both an aura and a headache.
Migraines with an aura are defined as:
Recurrent attacks, lasting minutes, of unilateral fully-reversible visual, sensory or other central nervous system symptoms that usually develop gradually and are usually followed by headache and associated migraine symptoms.
Migraines without aura are characterised by their headaches. Specific headaches are generally quite difficult to identify, but the description of a migraine headache is clear:
Stays on one side during an episode
Pulses or throbs
Rated moderate to severe in its intensity
Aggravated by physical activity
May come with nausea or sensitivity to light or sound
Duration of 4 hours to 3 days
A diagnosis of migraine is only given after it has occurred at least twice.
Auras can be hard to describe, but there are specific criteria to help diagnose them. Their symptoms can be quite broad, so although we may think of them as visual disturbances, they are not always. Speech can be affected, becoming slow or slurred. Movement and balance can also be affected in an aura, which can be quite unnerving the first time. All aura symptoms reverse fully within an hour, but there may be more than one apparent at any one time. For migraines with a headache, this will develop within an hour of the aura.
Understanding and Preventing Migraines
Current understanding is that migraines have a predominantly neurological cause. There may also be a vascular element to them, which could explain the throbbing nature. The fact that the cause has not yet been fully documented suggests that migraines are complex. As symptoms vary from person to person, so might the causes and triggers. Triggers are additional factors that may set off a migraine. Common triggers include hormonal changes, certain foods and drink, stress, and being tired.
Research shows that osteopathy may be more effective in managing migraines than some medication. In this study, patients suffering from migraines were divided into three groups:
1. Triptan medication 2. Sham therapy 3. Osteopathic treatment
Over six months, the participants filled in questionnaires about their symptoms. Data from the sham therapy group was similar to the medicated group, but those who received osteopathic treatment rated their symptoms lower or quality of life higher.
Your osteopath will look for factors that play a role in your case specifically. Typically, treatment will entail work on the muscles (like massage or active techniques), and mobilisation of joints. Some people respond really well to “clicking” joints, but others prefer more gentle options. Your osteopath will discuss this with you, and nothing will be done without your informed consent. You can also expect to be given advice: this might cover exercises, lifestyle changes, or things like using heat or ice.