10 Things that Help Prevent Migraine Headaches

If you’re prone to migraine headaches, you’ll most likely do anything to stave off an attack. Many of the medications that work for people who suffer from migraines are associated with some unfortunate side effects, and may compromise the sufferer’s ability to perform every day functions like driving a car, working, or using kitchen appliances. Worse, the migraines are just too painful and unpleasant, with the addition of nausea and sensitivity to light and noise, to suffer without trying everything available to alleviate the pain and to decrease the duration and severity of the attacks.

There are a number of things, non-pharmacological in nature, that migraine sufferers can incorporate into their routines to try to manage their migraine attacks. The first five things can be done easily, almost anywhere, at almost any time. The last five take a little more organization, but are available in just about any city in the nation, and can be made a part of most people’s routines.

5 Things That Help Prevent Migraine Headaches: Things that can be done at almost any time, with little or no preparation or prearrangement

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is a substance that dilates the capillaries in the brain. Because one of the effects of the migraine headache on the body is a restriction of the capillaries, caffeine can be a remarkable tool for the prevention of migraine headaches. It is so effective that many traditional migraine medications have large doses of caffeine as one of their main components.

The human body changes with the use of caffeine, and acclimates itself to it. If at all possible, I recommend that people who suffer from migraine headaches restrict their consumption of caffeine on a daily basis (sacrilege, I know), and then introduce it’s use at times when there is concern about a possible migraine attack coming on. For instance, if a trigger has been introduced, a high level of stress has been experienced, or if the time in a sufferer’s menstrual cycle suggests that a migraine may be more likely to occur, that would be a great time to head on down to the coffee house for a strong cup of coffee.

My reasons for recommending the limitation of caffeine for daily use are two fold. The first reason is that, due to the fact that the body does acclimate itself to caffeine, the migraine sufferer can become dependent it to maintain a normal level of comfort, and the withdrawal from the substance can actually induce a migraine. This is called a rebound migraine headache. The lack of caffeine is now causing harm where addition of caffeine once provided benefit, and it is clearly the opposite of the analgesic effect people who suffer from migraine headaches are looking for. The second reason is that the more sensitive the migraine sufferer is to caffeine, the more likely it is that the body will have a faster and more effective response to it.

2. Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is an excellent way to help to break up the stagnant “stuck” feeling that many migraine sufferers feel before an attack. Getting the blood pumping and exercising the lungs helps to promote the body’s energy flow. Exercise also releases endorphins in the blood stream. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Cardiovascular exercise also loosens up all the muscles of the body, counteracting the body’s tendency to tighten up before and during a migraine headache.

A recent study showed that overweight children were more prone to migraine headaches. One of the hypothesis for this correlation is that overweight children are less likely to engage in regular exercise.

If a migraine sufferer is concerned that a headache may be coming on, this would be a good time to take a day or two off the weight lifting. Add a few minutes to your run or take a spin class instead. This is the time you want to concentrate on loosening the muscles, not adding tension to them.

3. Relaxation Exercises

There is a very simple technique for performing relaxation exercises. Most people have experienced it at some point in their life. It involves starting at the top of the head and working down the body, while lying in a supine position (face up).

To many, this process (called “scanning” the body) feels silly. Most people assume that if they just lie down and relax the muscles, they’ll achieve muscular relaxation. It is important to remember that there are approximately 400 muscles in the human body, and we don’t ever feel all of them at one time. As you “scan” your body, you will most likely be surprised at how much tension you find to release in your body that you had not been aware of as you just lay still.

Lie down in a comfortable place in low light. Close your eyes and start with the muscles at the top of your scalp. Just concentrate on relaxing those muscles. Once you have achieved relaxation there, move down to your forehead, and the back of your head. Then move down to your eyes, the front of your face, your ears, your chin, and so on. Continue this scan down your body until you come to the toes and the bottoms of your feet. It takes a few minutes, and it actually does require some practice to achieve effective full body muscle relaxation, but the benefits are high for people who suffer from migraine headaches

4. Hot Bath

If you feel those muscles tightening up, and you’re concerned that a migraine headache may be coming on, the first thing you may want to do is go home and get right into a nice hot bath. Hot water is an excellent aid for softening the grips that clenched muscles can bind themselves into. If fact, if you’re performing your relaxation exercises and find that the tension you are coming across is greater than you expected, or if you’re having a hard time releasing the tension, it can be very helpful to suspend the scanning, go lay in a steaming bath for twenty minutes or so, and then return to the relaxation exercises.

Stay in the bath as long as you comfortably can, but try to be sure to keep as much of your neck and spine submerged as possible until you can feel that the warmth has penetrated the outer layers of the skin, and you can feel the warmth deep into your muscles. This is when the best loosening affects of the hot water are achieved.

A hot shower is also helpful in loosening stubborn muscles, if it is all you have access to, but it cannot compare with a hot bath for therapeutic effect. The submersion of the muscles and the lack of effort on their part are important pieces of the quest to stave off a migraine.

5. Walking

One of the simplest, most effective tools for preventing a migraine headache attack is a nice long walk. Utilizing some of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and of the relaxation exercises, walking helps to break up tension, regulate the flow of energy in the body, and loosen up the muscles while producing very little tension.

Walking is also an excellent meditative modality. For migraine sufferers, one of the most common triggers is that good old American killer; stress. Walking affords the ability to work through troubling issues while inducing a healthy flow of energy through the body. Many people who walk regularly find that they are better able to problem solve while walking, achieve more productive thought patterns, and clear the mind more effectively than when they are stationary.

The effects of walking in the migraine sufferer are also the opposite of the effects of caffeine in one very important manner. While caffeine works best when it’s use is limited during every day life, the more a person walks, the more benefit the walker sees from the exercise. Therefore, people who suffer from migraine headaches can help themselves to decrease the frequency, duration, and severity of their headaches everyday by taking a walk, getting the energy flowing, and clearing the mind of the clutter of the day.

5 Things That Help Prevent Migraine Headaches: Things that may require some preparation or prearrangement, but provide excellent long-term benefit

1. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is being more and more commonly utilized in the United States for the treatment and prevention of a number of illnesses and conditions. An effective therapy for the management of pain, acupuncture can be used to treat migraine headaches both in the acute stage, and as a prophylactic treatment.

Acupuncture addresses pain conditions in the body by restoring a healthy flow of what is known to the Chinese as “qi.” Qi translates roughly to “life force.” We call it energy.

Despite the fact that the most common method of acupuncture treatment employs the use of fine needles inserted into the skin at strategic points known as “acupuncture points,” the procedure is not painful. The most that is typically felt when the needle is inserted resembles a small prick, similar to a bug bite, and generally not even that will be experienced.

Aside from restoring a healthy flow to stagnant energy, which leaves the body prime for the onset of a migraine headache, acupuncture treatment also releases those great natural painkillers, endorphins.

In some states, acupuncture is covered by health insurance, and in others, it is a private pay service. Any of your local practitioners should be able to provide you with billing information before you book a session.

2. Yoga

Regular practice of yoga keeps the body strong, the muscles loose and stretched, and the mind clear. Like acupuncture, yoga is a discipline that has been around for thousands of years. It’s focus on counteracting strengthening postures and exercises with gentle stretching of all the major muscle groups provides and excellent base for the muscular system of the body to maintain healthful relaxation and alignment for hours, even days after the practice is over.

Equally important to the muscle work of yoga is the benefit of its focus on healthy breathing techniques, which vary from invigorating to calming, and it’s practice of meditative techniques.

Although yoga can be practiced at any time at home or in a quiet, private place, it is important for those unfamiliar with yoga practice to practice with an instructor. Proper monitoring and guided sequences of yoga postures by a certified instructor help to insure that all poses that require a counter pose are satisfied and that no injuries occur due to improper technique.

3. Massage

Massage therapy. I think most people can understand its benefits to migraine sufferers, but few people indulge on a regular basis.

Massage therapy can be disappointingly expensive, and few insurance carriers cover it, although some do offer a discount. However, for those who are able to afford it on a regular basis, the benefits to people who suffer from migraines due to tension, problems with body alignment, poor sleeping habits, and other physical disruptions can be incredibly helpful. For those who can’t afford regular massage therapy, splurging on occasion, particularly at times when you know you’ll be entering a dangerous time for migraine attacks can make a lot of difference in the outcome.

Of course, it is best to have a massage performed by a certified massage therapist who understands the physiology of the body and the effects of tension on the muscles, but if you are unable have a professional massage, just having someone in your life who can help to attack particularly troublesome spots (commonly the neck, base of the cranium, and shoulder areas for migraine sufferers) is a great help.

4. Craniosacral Therapy

A less common and less understood form of therapy in the United States is craniosacral therapy. Craniosacral therapy is similar to massage, but focuses on the head and face of the patient, and on the tail bone (the cranium and the sacrum).

Utilizing a combination of very gentle massage technique and energy work (similar to Reike therapy), craniosacral therapy identifies tension and irregularities in the central nervous system. Practitioners read pulsations in the brain and central nervous system to identify problems in brain pattern, energy flow, immune system, and other interconnected systems that promote health and demote pain and illness.

One of the most common groups of people looking to craniosacral therapy to have their problems addressed is people who suffer from migraine headaches. Occasional attention to the central nervous system is something that many find to be helpful to decrease the frequency of their headaches and increase their overall feeling of well-being.

5. Biofeedback

Biofeedback therapy is a form of therapy that combines benefits of body awareness, utilized by techniques such as relaxation therapy and yoga, with modern medical science.

The patient is hooked up to a series of electrodes, similar in look and feel to those attached to an EKG machine, which feed into a computer. While the practitioner guides the patient through some body manipulation techniques to achieve the desired effect, the patient is able to see the results of their efforts on the computer screen, providing them with a better awareness of what successful body manipulation feels like.

For the migraine sufferer, biofeedback can be an excellent tool for learning to place the muscles of the body into an actual, therapeutic state of relaxation. For many people who suffer from these headaches, their muscles can be so accustomed to holding tension that what feels like relaxation to the sufferer may still consist of a fairly high level of physical stress. By seeing the levels of that stress in front of them on the computer, they are able to learn what true decrease in muscle tension feels like, and to achieve a more profound state of relaxation, thereby decreasing their migraine status.

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