What Really Causes Migraines?

Published by Synergy Healthcare on

headachesMany people have tried to answer this question over the years. The most recent contender is Dr. Peter James Goadsby, and what he has to say is really turning heads. As mentioned in a previous article, migraines are different than tension or sinus headaches in that they aren’t caused my muscle tension or sinus congestion. Most people know that migraines can be triggered by things like bright lights, certain foods or hormonal imbalances – but is the trigger really the cause?

Common Theories

Up til now the theory has been that migraine headaches are an exaggerated pain response. When the brain perceives pain (ex. those bright lights) the blood vessels to the brain are enlarged and the nerve fibers coiled around them are compressed to make even more pain. Of course the mystery behind why some people react that way while the rest of us are migraine free has eluded researchers. What is Dr. Goadsby’s research bringing to the table?

Taking a Step Back

Researchers have been using brain scans to monitor what happens during a migraine for a while. Dr. Goadby’s research takes a step back in that  his focus is on what happens before the migraine. For the study researchers used mildly radioactive water to track brain activity while the subjects were given a well known migraine trigger. Interestingly before the onset of a painful migraine the subjects showed increased brain activity the hypothalmus, midbrain and pons- all areas that are active during a migraine. Also areas in the visual cortex and medulla that control light sensitivity and nausea were activated which implies that these symptoms might not be associated with the pain of a migraine but with the actual migraine process.


After looking at the brain scans researchers concluded that migraines  are not a response to pain, it is actually a brain disorder. What does this mean? Dr. Goadby believes that with this added insight they can start developing medications that will target the brain and underlying problem. If you suffer from migraines what can you do? First get to know your body and listen to what it says. Try to figure out what your migraine triggers are and avoid them. There are many different treatments for migraines, get the advice of your doctor and try to find something that works for you.

What Can Synergy Do?

While Synergy Healthcare therapists can’t write you prescription for medication we definitely have the skills to help! Shauna Burchett, OTR/L  specializes in Craniosacral Therapy.  This is a gentle technique that focuses on balancing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in your brain and spine. Many people have found it effective in relieving chronic migraines – why not try it for yourself? We also have physical therapy that can address many components of migraine pain.

Article written by Abigail, reviewed by Shauna Burchett, OTR/L