How to relieve Migraine Headaches

Few things can ruin your day as much as a headache – and migraine is possibly the most disruptive form of all. True, cluster or tension headaches can be seriously painful and make it impossible to concentrate, but for many, migraine takes the top spot because of the sheer duration for which it can impact your life – sadly, it’s not uncommon for a migraine to last days rather than hours, so is there anything we can do to relieve ourselves of this major pain in the head?


Why Migraine is different

All headaches are uncomfortable, and they’re certainly not something that anyone would volunteer for – but migraine is an especially difficult condition to live with, partly because it’s causes are still not entirely understood, and partly because it is – when you think about it – really quite a strange thing.

Migraine, for those of you who are lucky enough not to have experienced it, tends to be a “phased” experience – it doesn’t just start and stop, rather there are signs one is approaching, then the main symptoms and finally, a period after the worst has passed but where the sufferer may not feel much better!

Let’s take a look at the four phases of a migraine headache:

Premonitory Phase

This phase is usually the warning that a migraine is coming on. Many people will experience mood swings, neck stiffness, and even constipation. It’s easy to mistake the beginning of a migraine for a tension headache for this reason – sometimes, migraines also do not fully develop, stopping at this stage and leaving the impression that a tension headache was the real issue.


Aura Phase
Aura isn’t a universal migraine symptom – about 1 in 4 people who suffer from migraines will experience Aura. Auras are defined as sensory events which take place as a migraine is beginning – and tend to be visual (the most common) or sensory (slightly less common). Visual auras can result in flashing lights and blurred vision, whereas sensory auras affect speech and the ability to think clearly.

Vision problems usually start 20 minutes to an hour before the headache. Even if you don’t get an aura, the headache itself may cause vision trouble, and many people can confuse Aura for blurred vision due to the main headache, which is also certainly a possible factor.


Headache Phase

A migraine headache can be moderate or severe and is likely to occur on only one side of the head. Migraine sufferers will notice that their headaches worsen with physical activity, so rest is critical. Migraine headache can vary in duration from days to hours and is highly disruptive to the sufferer. Although we describe the headache as possibly “moderate” the majority of migraine sufferers would agree that it’s usually severe enough to get in the way of everyday life.


Postdrome Phase

The final phase in the migraine cycle is the postdrome. This occurs once the headache ends and is characterised by the afflicted person feeling exhausted.



Migraine triggers

Migraine sufferers often report a wide variety of things which they feel may trigger a migraine – the usual culprits, poor posture, stress etc. are of course on the list, but migraines have also been associated with certain types of food or changes to routine.

Some of the most common include:

  • Consumption of alcoholic or caffeinated drinks and tobacco
  • Periods of stress
  • Exposure to intense lights or smells
  • Periods of intense physical exertion
  • Changes to sleeping or eating habits
  • Certain medications
  • Consumption of aged, salty, or processed foods and certain food additives



Treatment Options for Relieving Migraine Headaches

Many migraine headache sufferers do not receive effective care – sadly, migraine is simply viewed as something we have to live with in many cases. For example, in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that only half of chronic migraine sufferers seek the help of a healthcare professional, despite the often significantly disruptive symptoms[1].

These include:

  • Throbbing headaches of moderate to severe intensity on one side of the head.
  • The appearance of nausea and vision changes.
  • Recurring episodes can last anywhere from hours to days.[2]

Most are solely reliant on over-the-counter medications even though there are no surefire options that exist for relieving migraine headaches, and the effectiveness of most remedies vary from person to person.  Similarly, it’s estimated that half of the people who experience chronic or occasional headaches will fall back on attempting to self-treat with over-the-counter pain medications despite the increased risk of experiencing rebound headaches that can happen as a result of overuse.

When it comes to migraines, this risk here is associated most with aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine combinations. The latter is especially a problem since it’s also a frequent migraine trigger for some.

Sadly, once a migraine has started it’s difficult to point to any one solution which is a truly effective way to shorten the duration – some medications certainly can and do work for some people, others report that rest or being in a dark space can help migraines to pass more quickly. In one recent study, researchers observed a significant reduction in migraine days for those participants receiving chiropractic care[3], although it’s hard to say if this is because the chiropractic care impacted the migraine itself, or whether improved mobility and reduced structural stress in the neck, shoulders etc. had a positive effect.

The best option for relieving the discomfort from migraine may therefore be to try to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Since the true cause of migraine is still unknown, the best approach is to eliminate possible factors which may be triggering migraine – keeping a “headache diary” noting down what you did, ate and were feeling right before a migraine started can be a very simple but effective tool in pinpointing possible triggers, whereas good diet, exercise and steps to minimise stress can help to reduce physical risk factors.


Next Steps for Migraine

While we, unfortunately, don’t have an easy answer for migraine, the good news is that you can start reducing your risk of migraine headaches by being proactive with your daily habits – and along the way, you’ll probably improve your overall health! While Chiropractic is just one tool which helps us to care for our bodies and reduce our risk of migraine, it’s no secret that many sufferers feel that it does help to reduce the frequency or intensity of their migraine – if you’d like to give it a try why not get in touch today!




[1] A. Chaibi et al. Chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine: a three‐armed, single‐blinded, placebo, randomized controlled trial Eur J Neurol. 2017 Jan; 24(1): 143–153.

[2] Headache Disorders. WHO. 2016.

[3] A. Chaibi et al. Chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine: a three‐armed, single‐blinded, placebo, randomized controlled trial Eur J Neurol. 2017 Jan; 24(1): 143–153.

Blog by / July 11, 2022 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007