This is a first-hand account of how I discovered my migraine source, and found that help was available beyond medication.
Anyone who copes with chronic migraines knows the misery, agony, and total debilitation endured; you also know the helpless, hopeless frustration in trying to pinpoint the cause. You record the days, times, duration, and frequency of your headaches...the foods you may have eaten, drinks you may have indulged in. And often, it is to no avail. You are no closer to finding the cause than you are to ending the pain. Instead, you ingest heavy pain medication and confine yourself to the darkest, quietest place you can find (usually in bed with covers pulled tightly over your head) just to survive...until nausea rips through you in waves, forcing an encounter with the white, porcelain fixture in your bathroom. Sound familiar?
The above scenario has been my life for nine years, coinciding with a car accident. For me, food and drink were not the culprits. Lack of sleep exacerbated the problem, but this was not only a contributing factor; it was also a secondary problem brought on by the migraines. A vicious, vicious cycle. Heavily over-medicated and at the end of my tether to sanity, I decided to search until I could find an answer. Today, I will share with you how I discovered my migraine source, and most importantly, my road to wellness. This account of my experience is written with the intent of giving hope to others who have exhausted, seemingly, all their means to rid themselves of chronic migraine pain. Although your migraines may exist for different reasons, don't lose hope. Do not give up. I believe you, too, can find help. (The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition; please seek professional advice before beginning any treatment.)
My Search For an Answer
I sat at work in the darkened staff room, my head clutched in a death-grip by my sweaty hands - again. It was only 10:00 a.m., and already I knew I could not endure another six and a half hours at work. What must my employer think? I had already missed 4 days of work this month due to these crummy migraines, and the month wasn't even half over. I can't go on like this. I have to do something, think of something. I looked at the three different bottles of pain killers I pulled from my purse. Eyeing them, I thought, Hmmm, wouldn't it be nice to sleep and sleep and sleep and... I was horrified at the thought that came next, so I quickly ushered it from my mind, and went to the computer instead. I started an Internet search for Migraines, Head and Neck Pain, Chronic Pain, etc. I stopped searching when I read the question, "Are you tired of taking medication to alleviate your migraines? Stop masking the problem. Fix the problem!" (or something like that.) My over-tired and drug-induced-foggy brain was skeptical. Yeah right, I wish. But really, what did I have to lose? So, with skepticism pushed aside, I made the call.
What I learned was really so simple, and yet I - nor the doctors at my medical clinic - never considered treatment was possible. My spine was in a serious state of degeneration. I knew the whiplash I sustained years earlier had caused problems, but I was told nothing could be done beyond physiotherapy, massage, and pain management. We were wrong, so wrong. A short anatomy lesson here will help explain this.
The function of the spine is to house and protect the spinal cord, as we know. The spine is made of bony structures - vertebrae - and softer, flexible cartilage - the discs. The rather delicate spinal cord runs from the brain through this "canal". Nerves exit the spinal column at various points along the way, delivering vital information from the brain to all structures and organs throughout the body, and also return information to the brain.
"More than 10 billion nerve cells operate constantly all over the body to coordinate the activities we do consciously and voluntarily, as well as those that occur unconsciously or involuntarily. We speak; we move muscles; we hear; we taste; we see; we think; our glands secrete hormones; we respond to danger, pain, temperature, and touch; and we have memory, association, and discrimination. All of these functions compose only a small number of the many activities controlled by our nervous systems." (Davi-Ellen Chabner, The Language of Medicine, 7th Edition 2004, pg. 334.)
A healthy spine has four natural curves, and the vertebrae are cushioned by intervertebral discs. The normal curvature for the cervical (neck) region is usually between 35 and 45 degrees (below, right). The X-Ray of my neck (pictured below, left) shows no curve in the spine; in fact, I have a 9 degree reverse curve. Scoliosis is beginning to develop (a lateral, or side-to side curve). Also, the disc between my 6th and 7th vertebrae is compressed, and bone spurs have grown around the perimeter of the vertebrae, rubbing together. Fortunately, the spurs have not grown together yet, which would fuse the spine in that area, limiting treatment options.
Bottom left photo, Lateral view of my cervical spine. Click on bottom right photo for view of Normal X-ray (courtesy Wikipedia)
So what does all this really mean? Physiologically, it means pinched nerves (my face and fingers would sometimes go numb), tight muscles, strained neck ligaments, neck pain and debilitating migraine headaches. But, more importantly, it meant I had an answer! It suddenly all made sense.
I am now in treatment to decompress the discs, realign my neck (to halt and correct the scoliosis), and eventually regain the natural cervical curve (concave, posteriorly) . I am told this may take several months, or possibly over one year to achieve. That's okay! Already, after only one month of treatment, the migraines have lessened in frequency and duration. I am beginning to believe my future bears the promise of normalcy. Help is available. I don't have to be a slave to pain and pain-killers. I have hope once again.
UPDATE April 2012 I have good news to report! It has been almost one year since I began chiropractic treatment and my migraines are infrequent now, and the numbness and tingling down my arm has completely gone. Also, my neck curvature is beginning to correct - from a reverse curve of 9 degrees to a proper curve of 19 degrees. The two vertebrae which were touching and grinding are now apart, and the disc space has gained 1 mm (which is a good thing, as my vertebrae are not at risk of fusing together). Apparently, I have a stubborn neck which may never fully regenerate, but I am a world away from the agony which gripped my life one year ago.
© May 2011 Sharla Smith
Main Photo Source: Stock.xchng