News & Research, Treatment

Vipassana Meditation for Chronic Daily Headache (Migraine): Clinical Trial Recruiting Participants

Meditation is highly regarded yet little-studied for managing chronic daily headache and migraine. Intensive Meditation and Migraines: Effects on Health and Well Being is a clinical trial of Vipassana meditation and chronic daily headache (the migraine sort). The year-long study includes a 12-day retreat to learn the technique. Researchers describe the study as:

Participants completing training in intensive meditation and continuing frequent practice for one year would experience reduced frequency, duration and severity of headaches along with improved awareness of the triggers of their symptoms, improved quality of life and mental health, improved heart rate variability, and reduced inflammation.

For more information on the study, see the recruiting page on Learn more about Vipassana meditation from Wikipedia’s excellent external links list.

Treatment, Triggers

Understanding Fascia and Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is the most effective bodywork therapy I have tried. Yet I’ve never been able to describe it very well. In this guest post, my massage therapist Jenny Eggers explains what fascia is and how myofascial release works.

Demystifying Myofascial Release
By Jenny Eggers, Licensed Massage Practitioner

Perhaps you have heard of myofascial release and you’re caught wondering what is this and what exactly fascia is?

Well I am sure every one of you has taken the step forward onto the step you thought was there and bam! Shock waves transpire up into your leg, your hips, all the way up into your neck. Those waves travel along what some structural integrationists call your fascial net. This fascial net serves as a protective barrier from the outside world against pathogens and transmits immediate feedback to your brain about your surroundings.

Fascia keeps us together in recognizable form. It is a tough, elastic connective tissue made from collagen, elastin and reticulin. It is a gelatinous like substance that provides tension and compression around tissue that would otherwise sag to the floor like a pair of socks that have lost their elasticity. Imagine a grapefruit and the septum the pith forms around and between the meat of the fruit. Just below the skin we have a layer of fascia encasing our body and as we move into deeper structures it weaves in and out of organic tissue encasing individual muscle fibers and organs down to the cellular level.

Other forms of fascia are bones, blood and ligaments to name a few. Bones are designed to reflect and change to accommodate the individual characteristics of each person. The needs of an ultra-marathoner are different in comparison to the needs of a swimmer or an office-worker.

Your body measures the forces applied to the bone and responds accordingly by building or tearing down bone mass. As you apply more forces to your bone your body responds by building up more bone mass. This can be to your disadvantage if there is some sort of imbalance as we see in the cases of bone spurs. On the other hand, if you do not apply force to your bones your body responds by tearing it down.

Fascia, providing us with structure and ease with mobility also causes dis-ease with mobility after years of misuse and/or injury. After trauma or injury it can shrink and harden around and within your body limiting your range of motion or causing pain because your support structure has been altered. What about that pain you have in your shoulder? Possibly caused from the numerous times you sprained your ankle playing kick-ball many years ago.

Once injured your body responds with compensatory patterns. To allow healing, other muscles take over the job of the injured muscles. These patterns are beneficial at the time but if not addressed they become entrapments and your fascia responds accordingly. The fascia is shortened or elongated where once it was in a neutral position and after years of compensation you now have chronic pain with seemingly no cause or relief.

This is where myofascial release comes in to play.
Myofascial release involves very little lubrication and specific force. Applying a sustained dynamic force the practitioner will catch the fascia beneath their fingers and either with your help or without will slowly stretch the fascia in various directions. This is where the burn that some of you might be familiar with in a bodywork session comes in. Slowly stretching the fascia will alter the collagen and soften the viscosity causing greater ease in movement and less pain in your daily existence.

How do you know if myofascial release is right for you?
Ask yourself these questions: Do I have chronic pain? Have I tried numerous remedies to no lasting avail? Do I feel stiff and clumsy? Do I perform the same actions day in and day out? Do I exercise regularly and want greater muscle health? Have I been in a lot of accidents or had my fair share of injury? If you answered yes then perhaps this technique is right for you.

One thing to keep in mind about fascia. . . .
With any deep bodywork there is a potential to release some emotions or memories stored in the tissue. Above I wrote that fascia forms a protective barrier against pathogens. The body doesn’t necessarily have a discriminating eye for what is a cellular pathogen and what is an emotional pathogen.

If one has a lot of emotional stress surrounding them the body will respond in kind. Slumping of the shoulders at one time may have been a protective measure. Maybe another time it is from a car seat that is ill fit. Continuous slumping of the shoulders can become a chronic fascial issue that brings a lot of discomfort. Getting your shoulders released may also release the memory of that emotional pathogen from so long ago.

After a session of myofascial work it is important to honor the emotions you are experiencing. Napping, journaling, counseling, exercising are all very healthy ways to explore and integrate the movement that just occurred in your fascial net.

Jenny specializes in therapeutic massage, injury treatment, deep tissue massage and, of course, myofascial release. If you’re looking for an excellent massage therapist in Seattle, contact her at patcheggers[at]yahoo[dot]com. She’s a delightful person with a true talent for bodywork. I can’t recommend her highly enough.

Coping, Treatment

Biofeedback Session: “Mindfulness-Based Wellness” & Electromyogram Biofeedback (Sans Hand Warming & Beeping)

I went to my first biofeedback appointment yesterday expecting to learn to warm my hands. I admit I was dubious, even though research supports the efficacy of temperature biofeedback for migraine and other headache disorders. Warming my hands? Is that really all it takes to get my mind off the pain? I was happy to learn my biofeedback provider uses a different type called electromyogram (EMG) or muscle biofeedback.

The Talking Stage
My story was first, then she detailed the nature of chronic pain, including recent studies showing the brain’s involvement in pain. She also gave an overview of mindfulness-based stress release, which her approach is based on. The main tenet is to be engaged in the moment without focusing on pain.

Hooking Up to the Machine
She hooked me up to the machine with electrodes on my jaw and neck, my problem areas. The monitor showed the levels of electricity, which indicates tension, in each area. A green line indicated a good relaxation level; the red line showed what to work on.

Learning to Release Muscle Tension
At first the readings for my jaw and neck were both above the green line and most spiked beyond red. Following the provider’s continuous instruction (given in a low, calming voice), I tried to consciously relax my muscles. She advised me to look at my brain as if it were the sky and the pain was just a passing cloud — the idea was to think of the big picture of my brain and my life, not just the small portion of it that is pain.

What’s Next
The session was interesting and I’m eager to learn more. Turns out the therapist is teaching an eight-week class on tools for mindful-based wellness, including meditation, gentle yoga, recommendations for incorporating techniques into your life, and a lot more. Signing up was a no-brainer! Course concepts are so similar to individual sessions that I’m going to start with the class. I will definitely have an individual class at the end of eight weeks so I can see what I learned and what I should work on

There are far too many components of this to cover in one post. Expect more on mindfulness-based wellness and biofeedback. If there’s an aspect you’d like me to cover, leave your thoughts here or on the online support group and forum. You can also contact me at kerrie [at] thedailyheadache [dot] com.

Mindfulness-Based Wellness and Stress Reduction Classes
Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the techniques that my biofeedback therapist and many others use. Hundreds of providers offer individual sessions or classes. Check the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine‘s website to find a provider in your area. One place even offers online classes.

Interested in the class I’m taking in Seattle? The spring session starts Thursday (yes, this Thursday!); the next course will be offered in the fall. Classes are held at Swedish First Hill. Call (206) 215-6966 for details or to register. Please introduce yourself to me if you take the class — we can get lunch and chat.

Chronic Migraine, Coping, Treatment

Biofeedback for Headaches & Migraines: Overruling My Personal Demons

Biofeedback is the most highly regarded non-drug treatment of headache disorders and migraine. The top results from Googling “biofeedback headache” are reputable mainstream organizations and publications. Research and anecdotal evidence back it up.

And yet I’ve never tried it. Yep, I’ve tried nearly every other treatment under the sun, including three surgeries, and never tried this simple, effective, noninvasive treatment. I’d like to say that in some visceral way I wasn’t “ready” for biofeedback. That’s a cop out.

The truth is that if it works, all these years of suffering will have been in vain. You see, when I was in high school, my doctor suggested to my parents that I try biofeedback. The simple version of the complicated story: the treatments were too expensive and insurance didn’t cover it.

With tears streaming down my face, I admitted to Hart last night I was afraid to try biofeedback because if it works, I will have wasted so much time. “Have the last 10 years been a waste?,” he asked. Of course not, but they have been terribly painful.

I have left a message to make my first biofeedback appointment. Before I called, I had to rationalize to myself not trying it. The best I’ve come up with: If I’d continued the trajectory I’d set, I’d be married to my work, climbing the ladder in a corporation that cares nothing about bettering the world. Please let me hold on to these exaggerations and wild assumptions. They’re the justification to keep from hating myself.

I haven’t had a single biofeedback session and yet am trying to let go of what might have been if I’d tried 15 years ago. As usual, I’m ahead of myself. Now I need to breathe — and gather more information. What are your experiences with biofeedback? Please leave a comment on this post or on the forum thread, Biofeedback — Have you tried it? Did it work for you?.

Symptoms, Treatment, Triggers

Physical Therapy: Weak Muscles, Scar Tissue & Posture

Physical therapy looks like a promising migraine/headache treatment for me. We made progress in the first two sessions and my third tomorrow. His take makes a lot of sense to me.

Weak muscles in my back are partly to blame for neck pain. Envision your back as a lollipop stem. The tasty part of the lollipop will be firmly on top if the stem is solid. If not, the candy will flop around on the stick.

When your neck isn’t sturdy on its stem, it also moves around. Muscles and tissue tighten to compensate, moving muscle, tissue and bone out of place. Strengthening little used muscles, which align the neck and hold its correct position, is part of the solution.

Built up scar tissue on the left side of my neck is another culprit. The scars have essentially fused two muscles, keeping both from working properly. Myofascial release from my physical and massage therapists will loosen the scar tissue, although it is so old that some will remain.

Interestingly, the scar tissue isn’t on the right side, where my occipital nerve stimulator wires were. The physical therapist believes it is connected to car accidents I had in high school. No injuries were treated after the accidents because I didn’t notice any. Yet, he said even the most minor accident could have contributed.

I’m working on my posture too. Instead of pushing my shoulders down, which I’ve always thought was the way to correct bad posture, I’m lifting my sternum to be upright. Looking in the mirror, my “corrected” posture looks strange, but it feels great.

My treatment path is promising. Still, I wonder if I’m just searching for a culprit. Time and time again, anything possibly connected to my migraines becomes my focus. After a particular treatment doesn’t work, I move to the next explanation with as much fervor as the last.

I’m fond of this one for now. It echoes what I’ve learned from yoga and massage therapy and repetition is reassuring. My fingers are crossed and my outlook is good.