Migraine Headache Triggers, Protectors, and Predictors

Migraines are characterized by recurrent headache and a hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli that can trigger an episode. Unfortunately, migraine triggers can vary from patient to patient, which can make understanding and managing the patient’s condition a difficult proposition for both the patient and their doctor.

In one study, researchers reviewed data from surveys, patient diaries, and clinical trials and identified stress, menstruation, weather changes, sleep disturbances, alcohol, and food sensitivities as common migraine triggers. In another study, researchers asked 62 migraine patients to use a smartphone app to keep track of their headaches for a three-month time frame. Participants reported headaches on nearly 1 in 4 days. Subsequent analysis identified that the most common triggers among the patients in the study were travelling, hormonal changes, noise, alcohol, over-eating, stress, fatigue, sleep deprivation, and weather changes. Keeping a written record of anything that precedes a migraine such as diet or environmental changes can help a patient develop a sense of what they should avoid.

In the general sense, living a healthier lifestyle appears to reduce the likelihood of encountering migraine triggers. Therefore, patients are encouraged to get adequate sleep, exercise, eat a healthy diet, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, not smoke, and manage stress. In fact, the American Academy of Neurology reported in April 2021 that regular exercise could reduce headache frequency in migraine patients by up to 50%, largely due to exercise’s effect on reducing stress, depression, and poor sleep, all of which are potential migraine triggers.

What about chiropractic care? Can it help patients with migraines? The short answer is yes, to some degree. The current research suggests that patients with migraines often have greater sensitivity to pain in the neck muscles, which suggests abnormal function in the cervical spine. A 2021 study reported that cervical flexor muscle endurance is reduced in migraine patients, and the patients experienced pain in the head when the muscles become fatigued.

Manual therapies provided by doctors of chiropractic to reduce trigger points and restore normal neck range of motion has been demonstrated to reduce migraine intensity and frequency, which was reported in a 2019 systematic review of six randomized control trials. A study published in 2021 found similar results in children with a history of migraines. Thus, regardless of age, patients with migraines (as well as other forms of headache), could benefit from an examination of the cervical spine and treatment to address any dysfunction that’s uncovered.

Author
Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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