I am one of those rare unicorns that not only has a genetic predisposition for migraines (thanks Mom and Dad- both who have suffered with migraines at different points in their lives), but I have migraines that originate in my neck and spine. Prior to having my cervical spine surgeries, I never knew that this was even an option for creating a migraine attack. I had always assumed that stress, food, environmental , etc were the main triggers, but NEVER my neck!
The first time I heard of a cervicogenic migraine, was after my first cervical fusion. I was having terrible surgical pain, BUT , I also was having one migraine attack after another. Which was one of the MAIN reasons I had the cervical disc fusion to begin with ( I also had an asundry of other symptoms but the main one was it felt like my brain was on fire- constantly!). My headache specialist at the time (who oddly enough had the SAME surgery I had 3 times, and also had a genetic predisposition for migraines), told me that he believed that the migraines that I were having were being generated in my neck, and causing migraines to start. I spent the next several years battling these neck induced migraines, and as my headache specialists put it, “you no longer have factory parts, so you need to have lots of self care and tools in your tool belt”. So thats exactly what I did. I had been going to PT, but begin seeing a massage therapists who also was an acupuncturists. For me that combo of acupuncture and massage could keep the cervicogenic headaches settled…that was until we moved to a state that insurance refuses to cover “alternative treatments” such as acupuncture, massage, etc. Which frustrating! I KNOW those work for me, so WHY wont insurance companies take the time to see the benefits of these alternative treatments versus continuing to throw new medications at me (that is for another time-Ill hop off my soapbox now!).
I would say 90% of the time my migraines orginiate in my neck first, I can feel it coming on…there is a tightness, then a burning and finally the ice pick behind my eye begins. Since I am no longer able to use the tools that help me manage theses types of migraines, I am having to institute a rather lengthy daily ritual which includes LOTS of stretching, foam rolling, yoga, th and epsom salt baths. I also have found some wonderful topical creams and lotions that have been helpful; salonpas is great, as well as my favorite Two Old Goats For the most part these work..when I have time to do them, but the entire ritual takes about 2 hours…and with a 15 month old, its hard to find 2 whole hours to go through a ritual like that, so I do the best I can.
The other thing my headache specialists, as well as the inpatient program that I was a part of began suggesting is what is called facet joint injections. Essentially a steroid shot between the joints in your vertebrae, which is where the nerves are firing and causing me to have pain. This procedure is PRETTY painful and it does work, but only last for up to 3 months. There is a more indepth procedure I am exploring to have done where they actually burn the nerves at the C2-3 area of your spinal column, essentially killing them and the though being that the pain would subside. I had one friend who had this done and she said the recovery from it felt like an extreme sunburn at the base of your skull for up to 6 weeks. I am not sure I am ready to go through with that right now, so I may just stick with the painful facet injections every few months, and once my son gets a little older, consider having the nerve burning.
I really wanted to write a post on these type of headaches because there has been so much coming out in articles about how migraine pain can be generated from the neck. And I wanted to shine some light on some “non” medical things you can do to help keep your self from getting a migraine IF you are diagnosed with the cervicogenic headaches. As always, I AM not a doctor, only someone who has been dealing with chronic migraines for close to 6 years and migraines for over 30 years. If you have ANY questions, PLEASE contact me through my blog or my instagram account. I am always open to talking to others about things I have tried that have worked!