Yes and no: your osteopathy student is trained in assessing and helping to improve joint mobility and muscular tension throughout your body, and to educate you on making healthy choices.
By helping you to:
- move & breathe more comfortably
- relax mentally
- discuss your concerns & options together
- make informed choices on a management plan
- monitoring progress and adapting manual techniques to your particular sensitivity
We may be able to help with migraine prevention. The idea is to reduce the frequency and, if possible, the severity, though not to provide acute treatment or claim to cure migraine. It is a stepwise journey, often in collaboration with medical management in those with chronic migraine.
Not everybody will benefit from osteopathic treatment for migraine reduction. However, research has shown that even just having a speaking partner who will listen and share ideas with you can help reduce the stigma and isolation of migraine, thus reducing anxiety & lifting mood. It should be noted that clinical anxiety and depression tend to “lock in” migraine, so our approach has to be holistic and collaborative with other health professionals.
How does movement (or the lack of it) impact on migraine?
Migraine has a contradictory relationship with all its triggers: a cup of coffee can sometimes stop one coming on, other times bring one on. One of the things that can both aggravate or alleviate migraine is physical activity, which brings us to manual therapy for migraine.
It has been shown that many forms of exercise such as walking, running, swimming and yoga for example, can be beneficial to reducing migraine frequency, this being the main aim of any intervention such as osteopathic treatment. However, just before or once an attack has begun, almost any movement or physical treatment aggravates it.
How is migraine diagnosed?
Firstly, we listen carefully to your account of your headaches and ask questions during a detailed case history, which is the key to headache diagnosis. Signs of serious secondary headache need to be ruled out. This can be achieved through the case history unless certain “flags” for serious headaches are found. In such unusual cases we refer for medical screening – even then it is highly unlikely that the cause of your headache will be serious.
The headache characteristics such as duration, nature, location, severity, and associated features such as nausea, light and sound sensitivity, are all painstakingly catalogued in the Third International Classification of Headache Disorders. Our students learn to use this and current headache diagnostic guidelines to help diagnose common headache types such as migraine.
It is essential to determine what sort of headache you have as this indicates the options for the best-evidenced treatment approaches: migraine is very often self-diagnosed and poorly-medicated, or just misdiagnosed. For example, most people with migraine do not experience visual disturbances and yet many people associate the disquieting flashing lights and blurry vision of visual aura exclusively with migraine, so much so that studies suggest that at least 50% of migraineurs, including children, remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
What is the osteopathic approach to migraine prevention?
Osteopaths may be able to help alleviate the burden of your migraine. This is done initially by safety screening for serious headache causes, referring on where needed. Assessing and diagnosing your migraine or other headache comes next.
Using evidence-based assessment approaches, your osteopath will perform some simple clinical tests such as taking your blood pressure, and checking your nerve function if needed, then fully assessing the functioning of your musculoskeletal system. This is relevant to your migraine because, as well as the life stresses already mentioned, the muscles and joints of your back, neck and shoulders, and the nerves of your upper (and also lower) neck can often play a contributory role in both generating and maintaining headache and migraine pain. Migraine is a major cause of neck pain during migraine attacks though, so it is important to assess the salience of any neck issues in your migraine.
Neck pain may be especially relevant where physical trauma has played a part in causing poor neck function, or where poor upper body function has resulted in a side-locked migraine. Recent research suggests that this strong one-sidedness of the headache aspect of the migraine might indicate a stubborn neck problem, and therefore perhaps a patient who could respond better to manual therapy than migraineurs whose attacks can start on either side.
Why do people seek hands-on help for migraine?
Most migraineurs feel that “there is something the matter” with their neck, and manual therapies are the alternative treatment of choice in the complementary medicine field. They can also struggle with their medications and be seeking other avenues for treatment. Many migraine sufferers are too sensitive to even the best medication available to them (the triptans), or the medications may have worked for a time and then stopped helping; we can return you to your `GP with a request for a medication review, but if pregnant, not wishing or too young to take medication, you may just want to give it a try. Osteopaths have many refined, gentle techniques in their therapeutic toolkit, and this makes us a safe and sensible choice for anyone wanting to explore whether physical therapy could help their migraines.
We need to remember that every migraine is unique to the sufferer, and it may not be possible to help everyone with osteopathy, or indeed medication. It is a case of finding a tailor-made approach which suits each individual, and this takes time and perseverance from doctors, osteopaths and other practitioners.