London Osteopathic Care

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The Ugly Migraine

By osteopath, Jul 25 2013 07:55AM

The recent International Headache Congress (ICH) in 2013 has labelled migraine a "brain disorder" rather than a symptom that occurs due to pain sensitive structures of the brain. The label may seem harsh, but it is raring towards the truth in that there is a dysfunction occurring for the symptoms to occur.

The traditional pathology accepted by all healthcare providers has been the change in vascularity during a migraine. A migraine headache is typically bought on by vaso-constriction/dilation of the blood vessels.

As an osteopath we look at the whole body. Although most people with migraines have a genetic predisposition, the internal and external environment of the body can be controlled so the migraine stays at bay.


Recent research has proved that a migraine headache can occur due to a number of reasons:

Neurological: Heightened activity in an area of the brain causes the release of inflammatory mediators. This eventually causes irritation of the trigeminal nerve, which in turn can cause facial pain or pain behind/around the eye.

Migraines can also come on due to imbalance/dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (involuntary system). The autonomic system is of two parts the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic is well known as “fight or flight system” or stress response is considered the accelerator of the autonomic system.

In a perfect world these two systems would work in tandem. However most often this fragile balance is tipped so the sympathetic system is left in a heightened state. This can contribute to chronic health conditions such a migraines (and chronic fatigue, heart disease, adrenal fatigue, behaviour changes, anxiety disorders, depression, addiction and much much more)

As an osteopath our concern is the neck and head is in good standing to reduce any mechanical congestion or compression. Osteopathic techniques will allow you to calm the sympathetic nervous system and to reach a balance between both sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic system. Thus reducing any possibility for predisposing factor leading towards a migraine.

What can you do?

Practice deep breathing exercise, mindfulness meditation, Qigong or other similar techniques to turn off the overstimulated sympathetic nervous system and enhance copper detox. This will also help decrease stress which will improve the health of the adrenal glands.

Vascular: This occurs when blood vessels contract and expand inappropriately, usually starting in the occipital lobe. More recent research indicates that the core dysfunction lies in the autonomic system and the dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Other factors like a drop in neurotransmitters (serotonin) are seen to be secondary in response to the autonomic system.

Osteopathic principles indicate concentrating our efforts on the use of the neck and mid-back so that the head is held appropriately on the neck and shoulders allowing for no congestion. Cranial osteopathy is used to make sure the cranium is allowed to contact and expand and thus leaving no level of congestion. The osteopath will tend to use a blend of structural, cranial and classical osteopathy to calm down the autonomic system.

Hormonal: A significant reduction or increase in neurotransmitter (serotonin) in the brain can lead to constriction or dilation of the blood vessels that then trigger a migraine. When this happens two mechanisms occur.

1) The change in serotonin triggers the trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides; this causes dilation and inflammation of the blood vessels thus triggering a migraine.

2) Sluggish adrenal system (check adrenal exhaustion) are facilitated during changes of serotonin levels.

Osteopathic treatment involves the elimination of strains along the spine that may cause and or facilitated segments that cause neurological change to certain organs (i.e. adrenals), hence eliminating any congestion that maybe causing the adrenals to become more sluggish. Osteopathic technique would also involve balancing the autonomic nervous system and adrenal reflex.


What can you do?

Supplementation with amino acid therapy to restore balance to the neurotransmitters.

Nutrition: Migraines can be bought on by an increase in copper and a reduction in magnesium. Copper (Hypercupremia) in excess has a profound impact on neurotransmitters in the brain and the autonomic nervous system. Usually an increase in copper is due to a lack of zinc in the body. A diet that is high in copper and low in zinc, manganese and other minerals needed for homeostasis will allow accumulation to toxic levels of copper. Vegetarians are highly susceptible to copper toxicity, because a vegetarian diet is high in copper and low in zinc by nature.

Osteopathy will enhance the outlet points of elimination in the body, which include, the skin, liver, kidneys and colon. This will allow you to address your adrenal health that becomes fatigued after copper toxicity.

What can you do?

Reduce or avoid copper: Most foods contain some level copper, however the following list contain the high amounts of copper Shrimp, lobster, wheat, coffee, soybeans, cashews, garbanzos, avocados, leafy greens, coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and organ meats like liver.

Eat more foods that are high in zinc; Beef, Buffalo, Lamb, Chicken, Venison, Eggs and Pumpkin seeds.

Use epsom salts baths to pull out heavy metal.

Adrenal exhaustion: In order for copper to function it must bind to two substances found and produced in the liver. Usually the adrenals signal the production of these substances. If the adrenals are not up to par they will send no message and therefore an accumulation of copper is found in the blood instead of being utilized in the body. Copper then stimulates the nervous system causing a migraine.

Adrenal exhaustion usually occurs after chronic over use. The adrenals usually produce adrenaline and noradrenaline in response to fight or flight situation. An increase of adrenaline in the blood causes the magnesium to be released into the plasma where it is excreted into through the urine. Thus causing depletion of magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency can cause fluctuation in neurotransmitters (serotonin) levels which usually rise. The increase in serotonin causes increase spasms of the blood vessels. Which reduces the blood and oxygen blood flow to the brain. Thus stimulating a migraine.

What can you do?

Eat more food with magnesium; dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish , beans, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate

It is important to recognise if you are in acute or chronic adrenal drive, as it determines your nutrition for either an increase in magnesium or a reduction in copper. Otherwise one is always able to take magnesium and zinc supplements until the body can contain itself.


Osteopathy will allow you to take care of your body holistically taking all these elements into account. If you have any questions please email me or book an appointment!

Best wishes

K. Panesar


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