Migraines are one of the most prevalent neurological disorder with more than 37 million people across the United States affected. Almost 5 million have at least one migraine attack per month while another 4 million suffer chronically, meaning they have at least 15 migraine days per month. The condition is skewed heavily towards women – 28 million are impacted and 85% of those women are chronic sufferers.
Despite how migraines are publicized, they are not simply just a bad headache. Believe it or not, some people can even experience a migraine episode without the associated headache pain. A migraine is actually a combination of neurologically-based symptoms that can have up to four distinct phases, each having its own set of possible symptoms. Not all migraine sufferers will experience each of these phases, and one attack can vary from the next.
How a Migraine Attack Unfolds
There is no predictable script that a migraine episode follows, but there are four separate stages or phases that a migraine sufferer might experience. Learning to recognize the different phases of a migraine episode can be a useful tool for migraine sufferers, helping them to obtain an accurate diagnosis or even prevent an attack from worsening.
Migraine Phase 1: Prodrome/Premonitory Phase
Beginning hours or even days before there other phases, the prodrome phase is the first potential one of a migraine episode. It serves as a warning signal that a migraine attack is coming. It is estimated that between 30% and 40% of migraine sufferers will experience the prodrome phase. Likely prodrome symptoms include:
- food cravings or aversions
- mood changes
- feeling thirsty
- neck pain or stiffness
- difficulty concentrating
- diarrhea or constipation
Migraine Phase 2: Aura Phase
The aura phase, though experienced by only about a quarter of migraine sufferers, may be the most often talked about phases of a migraine attack. The best known and most easily recognized symptoms of the aura phase are the visual changes that can occur. There are other possible symptoms of migraine aura as well:
- hypersensitivity to touch
- hearing changes, including hearing sounds that aren’t actually there or temporary loss of hearing
- heightened sensitivity to smells, or smelling odors that aren’t actually present
- vertigo and/or dizziness
- experiencing sensations of numbness, tingling, prickling, or stinging in the arms, legs, or face
- visual changes that can be experienced as blurred vision, blind spots, floaters, flashes of light, tunnel vision, or wavy lines
Migraine Phase 3: Headache Phase
When it comes to a migraine attack, the headache phase can be the most debilitating of them all. During the headache phase, symptoms are not limited exclusively to the head, other areas of the body can also be affected. The headache phase of a migraine can be characterized by:
- headache that is typically localized to one side of the head (though it can shift from side to side or be on both sides), throbbing or pulsating, lasts between 4 and 72 hours and is made worse by physical activity.
- pain around the eyes, sinuses, teeth, and jaw due to the involvement of the trigeminal nerve and its branches
- extreme light, sound, and smell sensitivities
- neck pain
- mood changes, particularly anxiety or panic
- nausea or vomiting
- chills or hot flashes
- runny nose or nasal congestion
- confusion or other cognitive changes
Migraine Phase 4: Postdrome/Recovery Phase
The final phase of a migraine attack is the postdrome phase, where a person finally begins to recover. This phase is sometimes called the “migraine hang-over” because it can leave them feeling lousy for up to a couple of days after the headache disappears. Postdrome symptoms can resemble those of the first phase, and they may include:
- poor concentration
- reduced comprehension
- mood changes ranging from depression to euphoria
- changes in appetite
A Natural Solution to Migraines that Works
There is no doubt that migraines and your neck are related, especially given the fact that neck pain is such a common symptom among migraine sufferers. Migraines can often begin following a head or neck injury. Sometimes they may not appear for months or even years after the incident (which could have seemed minor), making it easy to think that the two may not be connected. A head or neck injury, or even wear and tear that occurs gradually over time, can cause the uppermost vertebra in the neck to misalign. A misalignment of the atlas (C1) vertebra can cause several difficulties that can influence the onset of migraines:
- The atlas surrounds the brainstem, which is an extremely important component of your body’s central nervous system. Although much remains to be learned about migraine disorders, it is now understood to be a neurological condition. When the atlas misaligns, it can irritate the brainstem and surrounding tissues and reduce its ability to function normally.
- Blood flow to and from the brain relies in part on normal atlas positioning. A misalignment can reduce normal blood flow to the brain which can also be a factor for migraine sufferers.
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drainage and flow can be reduced by an atlas misalignment. CSF is produced in the brain and serves not only to cushion the delicate tissues of the brain and spinal cord, but it also rids these tissues of metabolic waste.
Any one of these factors can contribute to the development of migraines that have the potential to become a chronic condition. If you are already dealing with migraines, whether infrequent or chronic, having your atlas alignment checked by an upper cervical chiropractor (especially with a history of head or neck injury) is key to achieving a lasting solution. At Northern Roots Family Spinal Care, we focus on restoring normal atlas alignment and by doing so, correcting the root cause of migraines and other headache-related conditions. If we find that an atlas misalignment is a contributing factor in your case, then all it takes are gentle, specifically delivered upper cervical chiropractic adjustments to address the problem. This allows your body to begin its normal, natural healing process so that you can realize both short- and long-term benefits and improvements to the quality of your daily life.