As a life long migraine sufferer, I know how much these headaches can derail your productivity. They also do a number on your activities, outlooks, communications, relationships, and well, mojo. If you haven’t experienced a migraine, I can tell you that what you see on television is true. Sometimes there is no other option than to close yourself off from the world until they finally go away—hours or sometimes days later.
Dr. Ronda VanderWall D.C., C.A.C.C.P. Chiropractor and Functional Medicine Doctor, has helped many patients who suffer from migraines and has a special place in her heart for patients who suffer due to her own history with migraines.
“I can really relate with patients because I have been in their shoes with the worst of the worst headaches and not being able to function or go to school. As a teenager I was experiencing sciatic nerve pain from playing water polo and struggled for years with debilitating migraine headaches.” Dr. VanderWall shared that in her search for a cure she was always in and out of the doctor’s office with new suggestions or new medication; all which didn’t help.
“I knew from journaling my headaches what my specific triggers were and I was aware of them and tried my best to remove them but until I received chiropractic care, nothing made them go away and stay away. We had a family friend who was a chiropractor and who adjusted my dad on a regular basis for his lower back pain so I went and saw him and in the process of being treated for sciatic nerve pain my migraine headaches went away. I have been migraine free since 2002.”
Dr. VanderWall attributes her cure to chiropractic adjustments and because of the difference it made in her life, she decided to pursue it as a career.
The good news is that there are many remedies in the works including chiropractic care. Every individual responds differently to the various options, and while you may have one approach that works, it doesn’t guarantee it will help the next time around. Sometimes the best way to look at solutions is to consider the source.
“Migraines can be caused by an inflammation, the body’s way of protecting itself from injury, illness or infections,” explained Dr. VanderWall. They may also be a result of increased stress or change in serotonin levels. When there is a decrease in this brain-based neurotransmitter produced in the gut, this can lead to a migraine.
“This is why a healthy diet is crucial,” she says. She also explained that the source of migraines might be genetically based. In other words, “it runs in the family” with women having a higher propensity for migraines. “Even though you may be predisposed to a family history of migraines the knowledge of this can help so you can take precautionary measures ahead of time and prevent them from even occurring.”
Once you’ve understood the root of your migraines you are on the path to discover what solution may work for you. But it’s also critical to understand what can trigger a migraine so you can avoid provoking them on. Obviously stress, while also a cause, can increase the likelihood a migraine will occur or become more frequent.
“Weather changes, barometric pressure change, and hormonal changes are two common triggers to migraine headaches,” said Dr. VanderWall. “Research shows there is no way around weather specific headaches. Other common triggers include bright or flashing lights, pungent smells, caffeine, alcohol—especially the sulfites in red wine—or even lack of sleep. Triggers can vary from migraine to migraine but individuals who suffer from migraines usually have a select few triggers they know of and try to steer clear of them.”
Dr. VanderWall has several recommendations for managing migraines in the moment.
- Placing an ice pack over forehead or eyes. This reduces and constricts blood vessels in the brain therefore reducing blood flow and pain by reducing the inflammation.
- Quietly resting in a darkened room. Begin by removing all light and try to take a nap as sleeping has been shown in research to reduce or even eliminate migraine headaches.
- Try acupuncture. This can help with energy flow “Chi” which can stimulate endorphins and increase blood flow.
- Experiment with essential oils. Scents such as peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, frankincense and rosemary are great oils to help reduce the symptoms of migraines.
While these solutions can help temporarily relieve the migraine you should explore with your medical professionals the best course based on the source and triggers of your migraines.
From there, look at removing triggers and developing a healthy approach toward preventive care, which includes a few necessary measures that Dr. VanderWall recommends:
- Sleep Management. Getting a proper amount of good quality sleep and sticking with a routine of sleep or sleep hygiene. Magnesium and CBD oil can help also with sleep and at the same time, inflammation.
- Stress Management. Exercise and healthy meals will help with stress and ironically help you get better quality sleep.
- Take Frequent Breaks. Find a way to exercise throughout the day. On lunch or break times get up and get outside for fresh air and a brisk walk. Take a break from your office and retreat to somewhere quiet and dark. If a migraine is coming on, grab an ice pack and essential oils and try to calm the brain and take a quick 20-minute nap.
- Manage Computer Usage. Turn off desk lamps and dim bright lights around you, especially computer glare. Experiment with blue-light filtering glasses if migraines are triggered from computer use or blue blocking glasses or a blue blocking screen cover.
- Drink Plenty of Water. Your intake should be about 50% of body weight in ounces per day (more if exercising).
- Choose a Healthy Diet. An anti-inflammatory diet should be a priority and include plenty of fruits and vegetables and reducing sugar intake.
“Poor diets that are high in processed, sugary foods increase the risk of migraines and symptoms,” said Dr. VanderWall. “Try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, wild caught fish), fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein.”
For Dr. VanderWall and many medical practitioners, chiropractic adjustment is necessary for treatment and prevention. The adjustments of the upper cervical spine can reduce pressure on the spinal cord and allow for a more optimum flow of the cerebral spinal fluid as well as improved blood flow.
“My treatment for patients with migraines always starts with an examination of their spine and nervous system,” she said. “We need to make sure there is no interference with communication of the nervous system to the body not allowing the body to function properly. We then determine the areas in their spine that need to be corrected and what adjustments we need to perform in the office and what types of home care they need. After that, we look at the patients’ triggers and talk about ways to reduce the triggers. I also have them do a food diary so I can see how the patient is eating and caring for their body.”
For Dr. VanderWall, it’s a holistic approach to migraine care. I am very appreciative of her expertise and experience-based advice and of course, have incorporated her suggestions moving forward.
What about you? It’s time to take the 1-2-3 approach to becoming migraine free. First, understand the source of your migraine; second, remove the triggers; and third, become proactive in management and prevention. Together, these are the foundational steps to stop migraines from messing up your mojo.
Kim Monaghan, PCC, RYT, CPBS is the owner of KBM Coaching & Consulting LLC, a boutique Human Resources Consulting and Career Coaching Firm serving a national clientele.