Migraine: What They Really Are!

It is estimated that more than 1 of 6 people suffer from migraines. Unfortunately, much is miss understood about migraine; especially assuming it is just a more severe headache than usual. This misconception can lead to misdiagnosis and in some cases unfruitful treatments. The reality is, migraine has its origins as a neurological condition with genetic tendencies.

When discussing headaches in general, we must make a distinction between those that are PRIMARY vs SECONDARY.

1. PRIMARY HEADACHE is one that is not related to another underlying cause, for instance a brain tumor. A primary headache is one where the individual has an apparent genetic predisposition for headaches due to changes in their nervous system, more specifically, structures in the brain.

2. SECONDARY HEADACHE is due to another health problem, essentially it is a symptom of something else. Examples can include brain tumor or vascular issues in the brain.


The international  Headache Society has created an exhaustive list of different types of headaches. However, to simplify, the two most common migraines are “Without Aura” and “With Aura.”

Migraine Without Aura

The characteristics of a migraine without aura include:
* Headache lasting 4-72 hours
* Presents with at least 2 of the following: pain is on one side of the head, pulsing or throbbing in natures, hinders normal daily activities and is made worse by exertion, such as climbing stairs.
* Presents with at least one of the following: nausea, vomiting, sensitive to light or sounds.

Migraine With Aura

Migraine with aura has the same characteristics as those without, except there is an aura present. An aura is some type of sensory disturbance that occurs prior or with the headache. These disturbances can be visual, sensations such as numbness or tingling, or even speech difficulty and typically last less than one hour.


There are 3 basic questions that can aid in recognizing if the headache is a migraine

  1. 1. Do you have recurrent headaches that interfere with work, family or social functions?
  2. 2. Do your headaches last at least 4 hours?
  3. 3. Have you had new or different headaches in the last 6 months?

A diagnosis of migraine was suggested by a ‘yes’ answer to questions 1 and 2, and a ‘no’ answer to question 3.


As mentioned earlier, migraines have a neurological basis: that is, the filtering system and pain inhibition systems in the brain are over sensitized. To simplify this complex neurological process; the brain becomes sensitive to normal simulation and the pain control process registers this NORMAL input as pain. This sensitivity then triggers a structure called the trigeminal nucleus which is responsible for the sensation of the head and face. When triggered, the results is a migraine.


Migraines can be a challenge to treat. Since they are a genetic predisposition, management is the key. Chiropractic adjustments of the mid to upper neck have been shown to help prevent or minimize the intensity of a migraine. The nerves from the upper neck also enter into the trigeminal nucleus; the theory is when adjusting the neck, large bursts of nerve messages enter the trigeminal nucleus and help to stabilize the over sensitivity of the structure.

If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, chiropractic may help with their management. Call our office at (314) 731-4383 to schedule an appointment or schedule a free 15 minute telephone consultation