Thirty-six million American suffer from migraine, and some of those seek out massage therapy for preventive care and pain relief. For massage therapists who suffer from migraine, self-care is essential, according to a press release from the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, in McLean, Virginia, where a team of physicians, physical therapists, and other health care providers combine conventional medicine with complementary practices to address chronic pain and illness.

“You don’t have to just suffer through a migraine headache. There are concrete steps that can help you avoid getting a migraine, or at least to lessen frequency and severity of your migraine,” says the center’s Gary Kaplan, M.D.

Kaplan offers the following self-care tips for preventing migraines:

1) Pinpoint what’s triggering your migraines. The exact chain of events leading to a migraine is still not fully understood, however, typically, a migraine is precipitated by one or more stimuli, commonly called triggers. Each person has his or her own individual trigger or triggers. According to Kaplan, “The most common ones include stress, lack of sleep, hormone fluctuations, and a wide range of foods, from caffeine to artificial sweeteners.”

To help to pinpoint your personal triggers, consider keeping a migraine journal. Recording when and where you get a migraine will help you figure out the foods, events, or other stimuli that typically precede your migraine headaches. Besides buying a notebook to record these details, there are great online resources to help you keep a thorough migraine journal, including printable forms, an online log and a smartphone application.

Another way of specifically identifying what’s triggering your migraines is to get a comprehensive physical exam. There are also common migraine triggers such as nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, and other underlying or co-existing medical problems, that without medical testing may go unnoticed. So, if you suffer from migraines, make sure that you get a comprehensive physical exam. Kaplan says, “Your physician may want to consider testing you for nutritional deficiencies or other coexisting medical problems that may be contributing to your migraines. For example, having low magnesium, Vitamin-D, Vitamin B, or Co-enzyme Q10 levels can predispose a person to suffering a migraine attack, as can Lyme disease, mercury toxicity, eye disease, celiac disease, (TMJ) Temporomandibular joint disorder, concussion, thyroid disorders and other hormone imbalances.

2) Avoid Your personal migraine triggers. Once you’ve identified what sets off your migraine headache, the next step is to make a commitment to avoid your personal triggers. For you, this may be as simple as not eating certain foods. It may be necessary, however, for you to make more substantial changes, such as radically modifying your diet, eliminating or taking new medications, getting more sleep, or reducing your stress level through exercise and meditation.

For most of us, making lifestyle changes isn’t easy, but migraine pain offers superb motivation. You can also ask your physician for advice and support. Remember, the best way to lessen the frequency of migraines is to identify and avoid your personal migraine triggers.

3) Explore your migraine-prevention treatment options. There are a wide range of clinically proven preventive treatments that can help reduce the incidence of your migraines, including acupuncture, manual therapies, injection therapies, herbal remedies, prescription medications and combinations of these treatments. “So make an effort to explore your options,” urges Kaplan. “The important thing is to stay open-minded so you can determine what actually works for you!”

For example, manual therapies, such as osteopathic manipulative treatment, physical therapy and craniosacral therapy, can be effective in relieving tense muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing the body to work more efficiently and without pain. Acupuncture, according to a review of 22 clinical trials studying more than 4,000 migraine sufferers, was found to be as effective as medication—and sometimes even more effective than medication—for preventing migraines! Herbal remedies are most effective in helping to prevent the onset of migraines when they are incorporated into a comprehensive acupuncture treatment. But Kaplan warns,

In sum, migraine symptoms and triggers can vary from person to person, according to each individual’s medical condition, history and needs, the press release notes.

“Don’t just suffer,” Kaplan says. “Take the time to identify your own migraine triggers, get a comprehensive medical evaluation, learn about your prevention-treatment options and find out what works best for you.”

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