Physical Therapy: An Underrated Game Changer for Migraines?
For the past eight years I've suffered from chronic migraine. Starting when I was thirteen I started experiencing these debilitating headaches that would leave me sitting alone in the dark and quiet, chugging caffeine in hopes of recovery. My favorite remedy was wearing sunglasses around my family's home on a sick day from school, drinking a grande three-shot peppermint mocha and taking an appropriate amount of Excedrin. I would get about two migraines per month with headaches peppered throughout. They were manageable and kept me out of school twice per month, but other than that didn't affect my activities too much.
This pattern continued for 7 more years.
Beginning on May 5, 2018, I got a migraine. It came out of nowhere, not that my other headaches and migraines had forewarning. I had gotten my annual haircut that day and my roommate and I were throwing a party that evening. As the day went on and we were cleaning, this headache started and began worsening rapidly. I was drinking as well, and alcohol and migraines don't generally mix well. It was a very fun night, but the start to my personal year of destruction.
The following day I had the worst hangover I've ever had. I woke up in the morning feeling incredibly sick and was chained to the couch gulping down Gatorade for the rest of the day. I thought that it was just a bad hangover, but little did I know that this was the beginning of the worst year for my noggin.
This headache lasted over 200 days. It consisted of nausea and vomiting (closer to the end of the 200 days) and the inability to focus on a given task. I was teaching preschool at the time and the loud, bright classroom was the worst environment for a migraine. I was exhausted nearly all of the time and couldn't preform my job duties as I once could. I was missing work once or twice a week, either taking half days or calling in sick all together.
I was yearning for relief, but the search for a cure was as dark as a 6,000 meter abyss.
I went to neurologists. Very fancy ones that were "the best in the state" that prescribed me new drugs that had just come out of clinical trials with promising results, but no known long-term effects. Because of other medications I was on, I was ineligible for most migraine medicines. I became hopeless. I accepted that this was my life now.
I had to leave my teaching job because of how bad the migraines had gotten. I was vomiting at work regularly to the point where I couldn't be productive in the classroom. Certain routine parts of the week became triggers and it wasn't fair to the kids to have a teacher that couldn't handle the day-to-day. I had no choice but to leave.
I moved on to my previous job which was low-stress. I got some relief. There was a cycle of stress that triggered migraines that left me unable to work.
When I transitioned jobs I had a moment where I needed to make a choice. Am I going to continue to let these migraines rule my life? I made this transition in January, the same month where I went to a new primary care provider and after explaining my symptoms to her, she recommended a new neurologist and physical therapy.
I had done physical therapy when I was younger and I didn't like it. I never practiced the exercises and I was annoyed when I had to go. I was hesitant to try it, but I figured it couldn't hurt.
It changed my life.
I cannot recommend this path of treatment enough. After many drugs and much suffering, a drug-free, long-term solution was found. I'm over the moon!
I work with my physical therapist on exercises to strengthen my neck and back muscles that support my head. With these stronger muscles I am now able to go days without a headache, and pre-therapy I would have a headache every day varying in severity.
I can't wait to continue these exercises and continue reducing my headaches.
Catherine Langmack lives in Seattle, WA with her love. She's passionate about tending to her backyard crops, writing, and researching.