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What is a Head Migraine?

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Aug 29, 2019

Can upper cervical adjustments help head migraines?

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Things in your body don’t just happen by change or accident. There is always a cause.

So if you suffer migraines, there must be a reason for it. The question is, “What could be causing your migraines?” And then, “What can you do about it?

It never ceases to amaze me how much mis-information there is about migraines. 

    • “Migraines run in my family. It’s my genes.”
    • “I’ve always had them, and there isn’t anything I can do about them.”
    • “It’s easier to just take medication when I need to.”

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Yes, it might seem to be easier … but is it really? 

What is the intangible cost of migraines on your life?

    • How much work have you missed because of a migraine?
    • How much money have you not been able to earn because of a migraine?
    • How much time have you lost with your spouse, family and friends because of a migraine?

Of course, if you are in the middle of a migraine, you want migraine relief as quickly as possible! At the same time, it’s just as important to figure out why you experience migraines in the first place! Because it’s usually NOT your genes, NOT your diet and NOT your stress that cause migraines.

These things are merely the tip of the iceberg that trigger a migraine. So in this article, I want to share with you some very valuable information about your migraines, and how a unique form of healthcare that you’ve probably never heard about may be able to help that you.

 

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How to “Read” Common Head Migraine

Migraines come with a variety of different symptoms:

  • Classic migraines involve piercing or pressure inside the skull. Sometimes there is an aura, other times there is not.
  • Visual migraines or ocular migraines involve the eyes where you may experience blurry vision, visual snow or stars
  • Vestibular migraines involve your balance where you may experience dizziness, vertigo, problems with your hearing or tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
  • Cluster migraines involve a piercing pain through the eye or temple (aka temporal arteritis) that come in waves (e.g., lots of episodes for a month, and then nothing for 3 months)
  • Abdominal migraines involve a sense of nausea, and may also digestive problems.
  • Silent migraine may involve any combination of the above but without the normal pain.

You can search for a “Brisbane migraine specialist” or “migraine diagnosis” and spend thousands of dollars trying get the name of your condition … but the irony is that for all the different categories of migraine that they usually have the same underlying cause.

Often, the only difference is the specific part of your brain - or the specific nerve wire - that is being affected at any given moment.

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What can cause Head Migraine

So let’s consider a few possibilities here. And I would like to propose that the possibility that your migraine isn’t causes by chemicals, odours, genetics or stress. That migraines are caused by a physical condition stemming from the alignment of your upper neck.

 

These other things are merely the triggers!

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Migraine research has demonstrated a clear link to a part of the brain called the mesencephalic spinal trigeminal nucleus. It is the part of your brainstem that processes all the sensory input from your face, head, neck and connective tissue inside your brain.

You see, your brain doesn’t actually have pain receptors … but the connective tissue called the meninges sure does! The meninges are composed of three layers: 

  1. the dura mater, which is the outermost layer that tethers your brain onto the inside of your skull, providing protection; 
  2. the pia mater, which is  the innermost layer that protects your brain tissue from things like bacteria and viruses; and 
  3. the arachnoid space, which lies between the dura and the pia and that contains all the blood vessels, lymphatics channels, nerve endings and fluid (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) that feeds and cushions your brain.

It’s this arachnoid space, the CSF and all the other stuff that is most important when it comes to migraines. Chemical or physical irritation to the nerve endings in the arachnoid space convey that information to the spinal trigeminal nucleus, where the information is interpreted as being intensely painful!

Most people understand what chemical irritation to the meninges means. It’s the sensation you experience if you have ever had a hangover: groggly, pain, foggy, can’t think straight, more pain, nausea, etc.

But what about physical irritation? Remember that we’re asking you to consider that the cause of migraines may often by the result of physical irritation. So what kinds of things can produce physical tension or pulling on the meninges, thereby producing a migraine?

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Here is where the upper neck comes into play.

 

 

What to do about Head Migraine Problems

Many people who experience migraines have tried all the common treatments including medication, physiotherapy, general chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture including tragus piercing(How interesting is it that the nerve that supplies the skin to that place of the ear is the exact same nerve that supplies the meninges?!)

But what if there is something more specific going on with the joints in your upper neck that you haven’t had addressed yet?

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The top vertebra in your neck is known as the atlas (C1), and the second vertebra in your neck is known as the axis (C2). What makes these vertebrae unique is that why contain direct slips of connective tissue called myodural bridges that anchor themselves onto the brainstem.

So if you have a problem with the alignment or movement of either the C1 or C2 vertebrae, they can literally produce a physical tugging on your brain and the meninges. This physical irritation has been shown with advanced neurological research to disrupt the flow of CSF in the brain, and may also provide the symptoms of a migraine.

Oh yeah, and do you remember that nerve we talked about that registers the pain of a migraine? It is a branch of the vagus nerve called the recurrent meningeal nerveThis nerve occupies the exact space located at the base of your skull where the C1 vertebra sits.

… I don’t think that’s a coincidence!

 

 

Most common reasons Adults have Head Migraine Problems

So if it isn’t genetics or diet, what is it? Think about migraines in terms of margin or error.

Let’s say that you are learning to drive a car on a brand-new, 4-lane wide highway with no other vehicles around. Now compare that to learning to drive on a single dusty lane with a cliff face on one side and a sheer drop of 100m on the opposite side. You have a completely different margin of error here.

Same thing goes if you have a problem with the alignment of your neck. A misalignment one your neck or your heredity bone structure can make it more likely for you to experience headaches or migraines, but it is no guarantee that you will have to suffer them. But then all it takes it a tiny bit of coffee, a tiny bit of alcohol or chocolate or perfume that that is enough to push you over the edge to experience a migraine.

In our experience, that is the way that it usually works! So the chemicals or the stress are only the things that are the tip of the iceberg when the structure of your alignment and of your bones may actually be the more important factor!

The question then for adults who experience migraines is, “What caused your upper neck to go out of alignment in the first place?”

A physical injury. Any type of injury that affects the alignment of your neck - and where things get entrapped in such a position that your body is NOT able to pull things back into normal alignment on its own - has the potential to create a migraine. The injury does not always have to be massive either. As we will explain in the next section, so many of these injuries that set people up for migraines later in life actually came from childhood.

 

 

Most common reasons Children have Head Migraine Problems

Even if you have never suffered any broken bones or dislocations, I want you to consider all the possible physical injuries that you have experienced in you life:

  • Car accidents (Even minor whiplash is associated with migraines, neck pain, degernative arthritis and other neurological conditions later in life)
  • Sports injuries including football (all codes), swimming, skiingskating, dancing, gymnastics … anywhere where you fall on your head, shoulder or even your tailbone has the potential to cause a ripple effect that affects your neck (like cracking a whip)
  • Incidental injuries like smacking your head on the car boot, cupboard, or tripping down a couple of stairs. Again, even if you don’t break anything, a hard enough smack is still enough to cause an atlas misalignment that can create migraines later on
  • Childhood injuries like falling off the monkey bars, learning to ride a bike, falling off a trampoline … even all the tumbles and spills that come learning to walk!
  • Even the birthing process itself!! Breech, caesarian, forceps, vacuum or prolonged birth can all cause injury to the upper neck from birth.

In fact, many authorities believe that “colic” may actually be a migraine! It is because of the high incidence of adults who experience migraines later in life reporting that they were diagnosed as having “colic” as an infant.

Now, not all physical injuries affect your upper neck alignment in the way that I’ve described here … but all it takes is one in just the wrong way at the wrong time, and there you have it.

 

 

Diagnosis for Head Migraine Problems

Now, you may be thinking to yourself that you’ve already had work done on your neck, but that it hasn’t really helped. Well, there may be a reason for that … and also a possible solution!

Your C1 is designed to move in a circle by about 360 degrees - mostly up and down. Your C2 is designed to pivot, allowing you to turn your head. It is possible for either of these vertebrae to get stuck in any number of directions.

So let me ask you: if you have had your neck worked on before, which way was it actually stuck?

Years ago before I learned the specific kind of work that we now offer in our Brisbane upper cervical practice, I used to always thing that vertebrae only misaligned backwards. So whether it was an adjustment, a stretch, a massage, or whatever, all you needed to do was work on the back of the spine and that would fix the problem.

What I have since learned in my own research and experience is that the vast majority of upper neck misalignments have actually shifted FORWARDS! As a result, the necessary correction requires a procedure that helps to align things the EXACT OPPOSITE DIRECTION from what I used to think!!

This realisation completely changed everything that we do in our North Lakes chiropractor practice so that we can say with confidence that we are the only Brisbane chiropractor who uses this unique procedure to diagnose and to correct misalignments of the upper neck in a way that are CUSTOM TAILORED for your actual bone structure and for what you ACTUALLY HAVE GOING ON.

 

 

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Treatment for Head Migraine Problems

Now, you may have noticed the “word” chiropractor in the previous section. However, what we do is very different from what you probably think of when you hear that word.

The specific approach that we used is called Blair upper cervical care. I am not surprised if you have not yet heard of it: there are currently only 5 practitioners in all of Australia, and we are the only Advanced Certified Blair upper cervical doctor in the country. 

So what is the difference?

Upper cervical care is a post-doctorate certification that focuses on the alignment of the top bones in the neck: the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2). The way it is done is through a series of specific physical and neurological tests that measure the health of your body and nervous system. Foremost is a technology called thermography, where we use infrared sensors to measure the activity of your nervous system. if we identify a problem with your nerve function stemming from your upper neck, the neck step are a series of customised 3D x-rays which allow us to see things that aren’t even visible on standard CT or MRI scans!

(That is how we are able to identify if you may have a FORWARD misalignment that is different from how so many neck and migraine treatment do it.)

Finally, with the treatment THERE IS NO TWISTING OR CRACKING THE NECK. The procedure involves a quick and specific tap to the side of your neck - at either the atlas or axis at the exact angle that we measure from your x-rays - that allows the vertebra to re-align. The total amount of force is no more that you would use to feel your pulse. 

As light as it is, many people are amazed to experience relief from migraines in a way that they have not been able to achieve with so many other therapies.

… That is it in a nutshell: a different perspective on migraines that you may have heard before, but one that I know from personal and professional experience can make such a profound difference in the quality of people’s lives.

So if you have found value in this article - and if this explanation resonates with you - we’d like to invite you to take the next step, which is simply to give us a call and have a chat. Even if you have been to all the Brisbane migraine specialists, we may be able to offer a solution that you have not tried before … and it could be the one thing that makes all the difference. 

Our North Lakes chiropractor office number is 07 3188 9329. Alternatively, feel free to send us an email to schedule an appointment. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

 

 

References

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Braaf MM, Rosner S. Trauma of cervical spine as cause of chronic headache. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. May 1975;15(5):441-446).

Bragatto MM, Bevilaqua-Grossi D, Benatto MT, et al. Is the presence of neck pain associated with more severe clinical presentation in patients with migraine? A cross-sectional study. Cephalalgia. 2019 May 27:333102419854061. doi: 10.1177/0333102419854061. [Epub ahead of print]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31132869 

Burgos-Vega C, Moy J and Dussor G. Meningeal afferent signaling and the pathophysiology of migraine. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2015;131:537-64. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.01.001. Epub 2015 Feb 9. 

Calhoun AH, Ford S, Millen C, et al. The prevalence of neck pain in migraine. Headache. 2010 Sep;50(8): 1273-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01608.x. Epub 2010 Jan 18. 

Gaul C, Meßlinger K, Holle-Lee D, Neeb L. [Pathophysiology of Headaches]. [Article in German]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2017 Mar;142(6):402-408. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-111694. Epub 2017 Mar 22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28329901 

Mingels S, Dankaerts W, Granitzer M. Is There Support for the Paradigm 'Spinal Posture as a Trigger for Episodic Headache'? A Comprehensive Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Mar 4;23(3):17. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0756-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30830498

Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1805. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119 

Rosa S, Baird JW. The craniocervical junction: observations regarding the relationship between misalignment, obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid flow, cerebellar tonsillar ectopia, and image-guided correction. Smith FW, Dworkin JS (eds): The Craniocervical Syndrome and MRI. Basel, Karger, 2015, pp 48-66 (DOI:10.1159/000365470).

Rosa S, Baird JW, Harshfield D, Chehrenama M. Craniocervical Junction Syndrome: Anatomy of the Craniocervical and Atlantoaxial Junctions and the Effect of Misalignment on Cerebrospinal Fluid Flow, Hydrocephalus Bora Gürer, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.72890. A

Rothner AD, Linder SL, Wasiewski WW, O'Neill KM. Chronic nonprogressive headaches in children and adolescents. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2001 Mar;8(1):34-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11332864 

Viana M, Sances G, Terrazzino S, et al. When cervical pain is actually migraine: an observational study in 207 patients. Cephalalgia. First Published December 7, 2016: https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102416683917.

Yan J, Melemedjian OK, Price TJ, Dussor G. Sensitization of dural afferents underlies migraine-related behavior following meningeal application of interleukin-6 (IL-6).

Mol Pain. 2012 Jan 24;8:6. doi: 10.1186/1744-8069-8-6.

Whittingham W, Ellis WB, Molyneux TP. The effect of manipulation (toggle recoil technique) for headaches with upper cervical joint dysfunction: a pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994;17(6):369-75.

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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