Migraines can be extremely debilitating and are very common in today’s stress-filled world. As many as 39 million in the US have migraines. Worldwide, this number reaches 1 billion. Migraines are known for the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throbbing and pounding head pain usually on one side
- Sensitivity to bright light, loud noise, and certain smells
- Visual disturbances
Recent research has revealed that inflammation may be the source of migraines, and therefore, reducing inflammation in the body can reduce migraines. Let’s take a closer look at what inflammation is and how it causes migraines.
Inflammation is the process the body uses to protect itself from foreign substances. It involves the white blood cells and protects us from viruses and bacteria. The inflammatory response works to destroy, wall off, or dilute the danger to the body. However, sometimes the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when it is not needed. If no foreign invaders are present and inflammation is triggered, other health problems can occur, such as arthritis. Without anything to fight off, the body begins attacking and damaging its own tissues.
Inflammation generally includes the following symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Loss of joint function
- Swelling of the joints that may be warm to the touch
- Joint stiffness
However, with migraines, these particular symptoms are not present. So, let’s see how inflammation brings about migraines.
Since pain and inflammation usually are connected, migraines have not previously been considered an inflammatory disease. It has previously been thought migraine pain had to do with the abnormal dilation of the intracranial blood vessels. However, this vascular theory has never been proven. So, where does inflammation come in?
The only headache type which seems to be linked to inflammation is migraines. A physiologist, Hans Selye, was the one who began the thought process about stress and inflammation. He describes how stress is triggered whenever anything changes in your body. This can include hormone secretion (cortisol, adrenalin, etc.). Your body recognizes stress only, not the specific type you have. For example, being in a car accident or having the flu are both read as the same stressors in the body. It will affect you the same way. In other words, to your body, stress is stress.
Stress hormones are secreted under the direction of the brain. The brain senses changes in the body and tells the glands to do their job. This reaction to stress is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response.
Cortisol is a steroid and is used by the body to control excess inflammation so that we don’t have too much or too little. If the stress you are enduring goes on for a long time period, cortisol begins to run out. Your adrenal glands get tired, just like other parts of the body. If cortisol runs out entirely, your body will begin to excrete adrenalin for a short time. This raises your heart rate, blood sugar, and makes your body feel as if it is in a race for its life.
Interestingly, chronic (long-term) steroid excretion by the body causes the same effects as aging:
- Skin atrophy
- Bone loss
- High blood sugar
- Muscle atrophy
Some researchers theorize that aging is actually a form of stress.
Migraines and Inflammation
The trigeminal nerve is a large nerve that supplies nerve sensations to the head and the face, areas particularly associated with migraines. It also regulates the blood vessels that supply the coverings around the brain. When this nerve was tested by placing an electrode on it and stressing it, it led the blood vessels in the brain to dilate. In turn, this causes white blood cells to leak into the surrounding area. This is the inflammation that we are talking about. If you contract poison ivy, the inflammatory response works to dilate blood vessels where the irritation is located. When the vessels dilate, the white cells are leaked into the affected tissue and they begin to fight the toxin or the infection. So, just as the body responds to poison ivy by flooding the area with white cells to fight the stress, it also reacts the same way to problems within the area of the brain, flooding it with white cells and trying to fight the problem. However, the end result here is migraines. So, what is causing the trigeminal nerve to become stressed?
How Migraines Can Be Alleviated
Now that we understand the connection between migraines and inflammation, we need to discover what is causing the inflammation. It has repeatedly been seen that migraines are connected to a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine. The C1 and C2 vertebrae are designed to protect the brainstem and the nerves that run through this area of the spinal cord to the brain. However, if they become misaligned due to a mild blow to the head or neck, they can actually begin to put stress or pressure on the brainstem, affecting such things as the trigeminal nerve. If the misalignment is not cared for in a timely manner, the trigeminal nerve can continue to be under stress, leading to migraines, as mentioned above.
Here at Anchored Chiropractic, Stillwater, we understand the importance of having your upper cervical spine in top condition. We use a gentle method that helps the bones to move back into their original position once again without the use of popping the neck or cracking the spine. Rather, our technique