How to Deal with Chronic Migraines
Over the last few months I’ve been a lot more open about my struggle with my migraines on social media, and I’ve had quite a few people come up to me and ask me how I manage them. Although the word "manage" seems to imply that you have some level of control, which is not always (or even slightly) accurate. They want to know how in the world I can walk around every day with inconceivable pain wracking through my body. Because they aren't managing (and half the time neither am I). They're laying down in the middle teaching a math lesson with the lights off teaching while lying on the ground with an ice pack. They're pulling over on the side of the road to throw up (ewwwww) because they can't make it all the way home with the blinding pain.
Hi! My name is Sara and I've suffered with a chronic migraine disorder for over a decade. I've tried pretty much every medication out there, and gone through over 10 neurologists. I've heard every homeopathic remedy (or at least I feel like it) from very well meaning friends/family, but the Lord still sees fit to give me this learning opportunity.
So here it is! Here are the things that I consciously do/use to help me keep a handle on my migraines! In addition to this list I have a myriad of prescription drugs I use under the direction of two neurologists. So if you’re suffering from migraines if any type or frequency, please please PLEASE go and consult with a neurologist!! The first one you meet with might not be the best fit, and THAT'S OKAY! Keep trying! Find a different neurologist that sees things differently or has different experiences/expertise. I’ve been through over 10 neurologists and not all of those changes were because I moved. It’s taken me over ten years and three different states to find one I really mesh with and that I’ve seen a lot of relief from!
That being said, here are some of the things that I do on a daily or weekly basis to help control my chronic migraines. You will notice that nothing on this list has anything to do with caffeine. I have a few friends that have told me that having a coke while they’re migraining gives them considerable relief! That's awesome! While it has been scientifically proven that caffeine during SOME types of migraines (there are many kinds and caffeine doesn’t help all of them), every single one of my neurologists have told me that I should 100% stay away from caffeine during and after a migraine. The limited amount of relief you get is not worth the rebound headaches that ALWAYS come from caffeine, whether you recognize them as such or not.
Anyways, I’ll get off my soapbox and let you get reading! Hopefully some of these help you or inspire you to go in a different direction than what you’re currently trying. Best of luck!! Tell me what works for YOU in the comments! I always love to hear both other people’s struggles (because it helps us all not to feel alone) and their success stories!!
1. Biofreeze Rub
This stuff is magical! It's the same concept of icy-hot (I think) where it's this cooling gel that helps with muscle pain etc. I've gone through quite a variety of pain relief gels/creams, and this one has been my favorite by far! It seems more effective than the others and it the menthol smell isn't quite as strong (although there's definitely still a menthol smell to it). I keep a big tube of it on my nightstand to use it on my neck whenever a migraine starts to hit, but I also buy little tiny packets of it to keep literally everywhere: my purse, my temple bag, my lunch box, the car, suitcases. Literally, guys. Everywhere.
2. Migraine Hat
I literally have four of these beauties! Out of everything on this list they've probably changed my life/migraine experience the most. They're like ice packs that wrap around your head so you don't have ot hold them in place. They have these little frozen gels packs that you can move around in the hat so the coolness and pressure hits all the right spots without you having to use both hands to keep it in place. I can wear them around the house while I cook dinner, etc. even when my head hurts. It helps me to remain (somewhat) functional on those hard days. And because I have four I can always have a frozen one no matter what. At first I only had one, but after I'd worn it for a while it wasn't cold any more and I had to wait hours for it to re-freeze in the freezer. Sam thing with two of them. It took them longer to re-freeze than it took them to thaw while I wore them. Having four means I'm never without a frozen one and I can just keep trading them out!
I don't get these often because, hello! med school budget, but these really have a HUGE impact on my migraines, even when Kyle is the one giving me a neck/shoulder massage. The majority of people in the United States store tension in their neck and shoulders. Which isn't great for anyone, but can be specifically detrimental to migraine sufferers. When the tension in our neck gets to be too much, it irritates all of the nerves that run through your neck (which is a lot) and cause symptoms throughout your body - most of which just trigger more migraines. So when you get a massage from someone who really knows what they're doing, they can help release that tension and your nerves calm down. Just make sure it's a good massage therapist! I've gotten a few massages from people who were too rough, didn't understand migraines, etc. and they ended up making the pain worse. So find recommendations from people in your area that you trust! If done right, massages can work wonders.
4. Portable TENS Unit
We actually just used this last night!! Since I can't get a professional massage every day (although Kyle really isn't half bad with all the anatomy training he's getting in med school!) this TENS unit helps your muscles to relax at home! It sends electric impulses into your muscles through the pads which stimulates them a bunch until they relax! It's definitely an odd sensation to feel your muscles convulsing softly without you consciously telling them to move, but it really does work. I find that I need a second person (Kyle, duh) to help me put the pads on the correct spots where I'm tightest. So make sure you have a second set of hands to help just in case!
4. Ginger Supplements
Ginger is a natural pain killer and really does work to diminish my head and neck pain on a daily basis! My doctor got me started on it because she wanted to reduce the amount of pain killers I was taking. It helps tpo head off the average daily headache that often can turn into a migraine, but it's not a full on replacement for those big pain killers. I still need my prescription pain killers for those massive migraine attacks, but it has helped me to reduce the amount of prescription pain killers I've had to take regularly and that's ALWAYS a win! Plus it helps with the nausea the migraines can bring too!
5. Epsom Salt Foot Soaks
I've been told numerous times that magnesium can help with migraines, but the body does a kind of awful job at actually absorbing it when you take magnesium orally. So instead, I soak my feet in water with Epsom salts! I have a designated, large bowl I keep in the cleaning closet that I pull out, fill with hot water and Epsom salts, and just soak my feet for about 15 minutes (or until the water gets cold). Even if my body didn't actually absorb any magnesium (although I believe that it does), it just feels really good to pamper myself for a short 15 minutes after a long day. That just as much as anything helps with my migraines! To just sit and breathe and intentionally relax and try to calm the tight muscles in my body. More tension and tightness equals more migraines. So the Epsom salt foot soaks are a win win!
6. Drawing Closer to God
This one is different than the others on this list, but I would be extremely remiss and downright dishonest if I didn't include it. This step has probably helped me the MOST in my struggle against migraines. I wholeheartedly believe that our spiritual health, emotional health, and physical health are closely intertwined. When one falters, the others falter. When one improves so can the others. Drawing closer to my Savior through this decade-long trial been hard. It' definitely been a roller coaster, sometimes amazing and feeling like I'm rocking this life, other times struggling to want to pray or read my scriptures or even get up in the mornings.
But the times that I've struggled the most have been when I'm not consciously making an effort to draw closer to God. When I don't remember the majesty and perfectness of His plan. When I don't remember that I can either choose to let this trial help me grow and be more like Him, or it can break me down and make me bitterly resentful. When I draw closer to my Savior despite my anger at Him for giving me this unimaginably difficult disease, I remember that I'm not alone; He gets it. He understands perfectly. And He wants to help of I'll just let Him. I get to choose. Will this make me stronger, more empathetic, and more Christ-like. Or will it break me? It's my choice.
That's a wrap!
Hopefully seeing the things that I do to help control my chronic migraines has inspired you! In the US more than 38 million people suffer from migraines. so YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I am always here to chat, comfort, commiserate, or distract if you ever need someone to talk to. About migraines or anything else :) Email me at email@example.com or comment here and tell me about YOUR journey with migraines! Let's support and lift each other through this crazy struggle in life!