The Headache Clinic
The Headache Clinic

You have finally hit the road to head away on a family holiday after some last-minute frantic packing. Five minutes down the road, the kids are screaming in the back seat, the sun is pouring in through the windscreen, and you can’t find your drink bottle… maybe it’s still on the bench?

At this time of year, so many of our triggers are in full force. Late nights, alcohol, chocolate, travel, heat and lets not forget trying to keep the peace with the family. We are vulnerable to headache and migraine over the holiday period, and the last place you want to spend your holiday is in a dark, cool room.

To better understand how we can help take control of our headaches and migraines, we first need to know what is happening. 

What causes headache and migraine?

The common underlying condition in headache and migraine is a sensitised brainstem. Think of this like a decreased threshold. When the brainstem is sensitised, your tolerance to normal events is decreased. That’s why you want to scream when you spill your coffee, or the kids are arguing. Our tolerance to stress, tiredness, and even dehydration is decreased when our brainstem is sensitised.

The great news here is that the structures at the top of the neck have a direct connection to the brainstem and can be the driver of our sensitivity. By decreasing the strain at the top of the neck, you can reduce your sensitivity and improve your tolerance! Hallelujah!

Reducing the impact of headache and migraine

So what can you do to improve your tolerance to stress and decrease your risk of headache and migraine this summer?

  • Sleep routine - Be consistent. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour and get out of bed at the same time each day. If you find you frequently wake during the night or are a light sleeper, consider taking a high-quality magnesium supplement.
  • Take a walk - Walking is not just good for your mental health and overall wellbeing, it can also significantly improve your headache. Walk tall and be nosey and check out what is happening around you. This is a nice gentle movement for the top of your neck and can take away some of the strain from scrolling through your phone.
  • Device use - Take breaks every 30 minutes and think about how you are positioned when using it. Sitting slumped forward with your head hanging over your phone or lying on your back with pillows stacked behind your head will increase the pressure at the top of the neck and put you at high risk of headache or migraine.
  • Try some meditation - Slow down that busy brain! There are lots of apps with guided meditations or simply find a secluded spot to sit and bask in the quietness. It’s amazing how just five minutes of quiet can give you the ability to get through. 
  • Breathing - Your belly should rise and fall with each breath. Focus on taking slow breaths that fill to the bottom of your lungs and slowly exhale.
  • Sit tall - Having great posture decreases the loading through the top of the neck. This can directly influence the sensitivity into the brainstem. When you have been sitting for 30 minutes, change position or get up and move.
  • Have fun – Laughter activates the parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘rest and digest’ system) and is linked with a healthy tone in the vagus nerve. Ten minutes of laughter a day is all it takes!

We can’t help with the chaos that comes with having family at home, but we can help take the headache out of summer.

  • CVS is classified as severe vomiting lasting from 3 hours and up to 3 days with no apparent cause.
  • It most commonly starts at the same time of day and lasts the same amount of time.
  • It is most common in children 0-3 years old, with sufferers growing out of it by 7-14 years old. Yet, in some cases, it continues into adulthood

The sad fact about CVS is that it is often not diagnosed for up 2.5 years in children and up to 9 years in adults.  This is due to its complexity of presenting symptoms and misdiagnosis of gastrointestinal issues or abdominal migraine. It crazily has led to most patients having avoidable medical procedures before getting a proper diagnosis.  It’s even recorded that up to 27-50% of CVS sufferers will become migraineurs into adult life. 

CVS has a huge impact on quality of life, with increased anxiety and depression, as nausea and vomiting are so debilitating.  It is linked to poor psychosocial function and increases in irritable bowel syndrome.  

Nausea and vomiting is the cause of 38% of all missed workdays, leisure days, and household activity days.  Children are also reported to miss up to 19-24 days of school or childcare. Even scarier than watching your poor children suffer is to learn that 50% of children need IV intervention and hospital admission and 27% of them need this every episode.

So, how can The Headache Clinic help? 

We have known for many years that the upper cervical spine has been involved in causing nausea and vomiting.  Furthermore, recent research has explained a common underlying condition, which is sensitivity in the brainstem.  This is the same for migraine, cervicogenic headache, tension-type headache, and menstrual migraines.  The brainstem receives information from two inputs only - the upper cervical area, including the upper 3 joints, one disc with the surrounding muscles, and the trigeminal area of the brain. The brainstem sits at the bottom of the brain, connecting it to the spinal cord, and is nestled in the canal of the upper cervical spine. 

So, you can just imagine how much of a direct input the upper cervical has into the brainstem itself.  So, back to the sensitivity.  This sensitivity in the brainstem reduces our tolerance to normal events, such as poor sleep, stress, dehydration, bright lights, poor head postures, hormonal fluctuation, and foods such as cheese, wine, chocolate, and other additives.  Other triggers of CVS can be viral infections and emotional events that include panic attacks, anxiety, and even social events such as parties which are supposed to be fun….sigh!

I bet you are asking, how do children have all this sensitivity at such a young age?  They are just starting out.  They usually haven’t been subjected to large amounts of stress, binging on alcohol, or significant hormonal fluctuations. 

However, they do have a heavy head and weak un-developed deep neck stabilising muscles.  These get stronger with age, and this may explain just how they grow out of it.  It may also explain why some continue to have symptoms into adolescence or adult life.  Especially if they have had a head knock, concussion, or neck injury, which is not uncommon in children as they play, learn and grow.

This may be the reason so many of these children become migraineurs, as this sensitivity remains in silence until the threshold is exceeded and migraine results.  That is unless it is addressed and the dysfunction in the upper cervical spine is corrected.  

It may be surprising to know that the treatment of CVS is similar to migraine treatment with the use of amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant that works in the brainstem by blocking receptors and anti-nausea drugs.  These are being given to children at such a young age which is alarming when considering the long-term effects of medication.

Experience relief from cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS)

The key is to find out why you or your child have sensitivity in the brainstem.   At The Headache Clinic, we frequently treat those with CVS, abdominal migraine, and nausea, vomiting symptoms.

Our practitioners all come from either a physiotherapist or chiropractic background who have undergone special training to diagnose and effectively treat the upper cervical spine and reduce the sensitivity with great success.  If any of this resonates with you or your child and you would like to have a chat with one of our practitioners, please feel free to give us a call and request a free 15-minute consult.  We are here to help.

Was your New Year’s resolution to get fit and improve your health, only to find that going to the gym triggers a Headache or Migraine or gives you neck pain?

You are not alone! There is an explanation for this, and I’ve got some great advice on how to work out without triggering a Headache or Migraine.

Plenty of research says physical activity helps prevent Headache and Migraine, so why does going to a boot camp or the gym trigger Headache and Migraine?

The answer is not hydration! Although hydration is important, there is another factor at play here.

Deep stabilising muscles

Research shows that those with Headache and Migraine, previous trauma to the neck or head, or neck pain and stiffness have a delayed activation of the deep stabilising muscles in the neck. These muscles help to stabilise and support the neck. 

Usually, what we would expect to find in people without these conditions is an activation of the stabilising muscles just before moving the arm away from the body. This prevents unnecessary strain from being applied to the structures in the neck and decreases the risk of injury.

You can imagine how many gym activities involve the arms being away from the side of the body, let alone adding in those weights! So, if there is load coming onto the neck when you lift your arms, and the neck is unsupported by the stabilising muscles, it is no wonder that the end result is a Headache, Migraine, or neck pain.

How do you prevent this from happening?

Activating and strengthening the stabilising muscles of the neck is a must! In our clinic, we treat patients with Headache, Migraine, and neck issues by correcting the dysfunction in the neck and tailoring a specific strengthening programme for the stabilising muscles.

However, there is something you can try next time you are at the gym. When lifting weights, stand or sit with correct posture and tuck your chin in, or as some people would say, “pull your head in”.

Not so you are looking down but so that you are on the verge of giving yourself a double chin. Another great thing to do is to book a session with a personal trainer so they can watch and correct your technique during a workout.

This is a great way to check you aren’t loading your neck unnecessarily while also helping prevent injury to other areas in the body.

If you find you are still having issues with Headache, Migraine, or neck pain after physical activity, come and see us at The Headache Clinic.

Give us a call on 0508 HEADACHE because we’re here to help you take control!

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