Sydney Headache & Migraine Centre

Migraine Origins Unraveled: Uncovering What Lies Beneath

Migraine is not just a headache (Headache or Migraine?) What causes migraine then? Migraine is a complex neurological disorder characterized by recurrent headaches of moderate to severe intensity and often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances.  

In recent years, researchers have made significant progress in understanding what causes migraines, by identifying numerous factors that contribute to their onset. Consequently, one such factor gaining attention is brainstem sensitivity, which has been implicated in the development and progression of migraines.

In this blog, we will explore the connection between brainstem sensitivity and migraines, shedding light on the cause of migraine, understanding the role triggers play and potential treatment approaches. 

The Brainstem’s Role In Causing Migraines

The brainstem is the lower part of the brain responsible for regulating several crucial functions, including pain perception, sensory processing, and the control of autonomic functions such as blood pressure and heart rate. Therefore, it acts as a bridge between the brain and the spinal cord, playing a vital role in transmitting and modulating signals throughout the nervous system.

Studies have shown that individuals with migraines often exhibit abnormal brainstem activity and sensitivity. The brainstem becomes hyperexcitable, meaning it is more prone to triggering or causing migraines in response to various stimuli. Subsequently, this increased sensitivity is what causes migraine and can result from multiple factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and hormonal fluctuations. 

Understanding The Role Of Triggers In Causing Migraines

When the brainstem is hypersensitive, stimuli can trigger neural pathways into a migraine episode. Triggers can vary for each individual and can often be confusing to track. However, Understanding triggers and your migraine threshold is helpful to effectively manage and treat migraine. 

Common Migraine Causing Triggers

Common triggers / potential causes of migraines are: 

  • The upper neck 
  • Stress 
  • Heightened emotions 
  • Diet 
  • Alcohol, commonly wine 
  • Hormones 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Bright or flashing lights 
  • Loud noises 
  • Certain scent 
  • Physical exertion 

For more information read: Understanding triggers 

       “If you know your enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” 

      – Sun Tzu 

      How to treat migraines

      Understanding the role of brainstem sensitivity, in regards to what causes migraine, opens potential avenues for treatment. Here are a few strategies that aim to address this sensitivity: 

      • Manual Therapy

      The upper neck, including the upper cervical joints, muscles, and nerves, has intricate connections to the trigeminal nerve and the brainstem. When the upper neck joints are dysfunctional or not moving optimally, it can create nociceptive input and abnormal sensory feedback to the brain. The Watson Headache® Approach employs manual therapy techniques to address the neck dysfunction contributing to migraines. Skilled physiotherapists trained in this approach utilise gentle, precise, and specific manual therapy techniques to restore normal joint movement and reduce irritation of the upper cervical structures. The goal is to alleviate sensitisation of the brainstem and reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraines. 

      • Lifestyle Modifications

      Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage migraines. Regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, adequate sleep and maintaining a consistent routine can all contribute to minimising brainstem sensitivity. 

      • Diet

      There are many nutritional factors that can contribute to migraines such as Inadequate energy intake, including iron, vitamin B12, folate, and omega-3 fats, chronic dehydration, and metabolic disturbances, such as insulin resistance. 

      • Medications

      Certain medications, such as triptans and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors, can target the brainstem’s neurotransmitter imbalances and inhibit trigeminal nerve activation, providing relief during migraines. 

      • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

      CBT can help individuals cope with pain, manage stress, and develop strategies to reframe negative thoughts associated with migraines, potentially reducing brainstem sensitivity. 

      While there is still much to uncover regarding the intricate relationship between brainstem sensitivity and migraines, the research conducted thus far provides valuable insights into this complex neurological disorder. Practitioners at Sydney Headache and Migraine Centre will guide you in your migraine journey, equipping you with the knowledge you need and provide expert treatment to restore you to good health. 

      For further information read: How to prevent or reduce migraines

      Book A Migraine/Headache Assessment

      Book online or give us a call on 1300MyHeadache (1300 694 323) to organise an assessment with Sydney Headache & Migraine Centre and learn more about what causes your migraines and how we can help treat them.

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