Migraine Pain Relief Devices and Ideas

Updated on May 21, 2018
greenmind profile image

Writer, teacher, and parent. I have been a migraineur since my early 20's. Here's what I have learned about my condition.

Is it a Migraine?

The diagnosis of a migraine is a very specific medical condition. It is not the same as a “very bad headache.” Your headache may be severe, but unless it meets certain medical criteria, it isn’t technically a migraine. And migraine pain relief is not the same as treating a simple headache.

A real migraine is the result of a "neural cascade" of chemical and electrical reactions on the surface of your brain's cerebral cortex. Part of this chain reaction is the constriction and subsequent inflation of the blood vessels in the brain. This is what causes the unbelievable pressure and pain of a true migraine.

Migraines are often preceded by an "aura," which is typically a visual disturbance but may affect any part of the body. I have had countless migraine blind spots, but I have also had many auras that were expressed on one hand, or one side of my face. These can be really scary -- you think you're having a stroke! Migraines are no joke, with or without the painful headache. The time to seek relief for migraine pain is immediately, when the aura starts, even if you have no pain yet.

This is one reason that people, like myself, who have a diagnosis get a little tired of hearing people say they "have a migraine" when what they really mean is they “have a bad headache.” This is not to dismiss the severity of anyone’s headache! It is important, however, to understand what is and is not a migraine, which has a very specific set of symptoms. These specific symptoms mean that specific migraine relief devices are called for.

The Migraine Cascade

It’s thought that a migraine is caused by a disruption of the normal electrical nerve signals on the surface of the brain itself. This has been described as something like a “storm” in the usually calm surface of the brain, and it causes a number of reactions. These chemical messages that spread out from the site of the storm have been referred to as the “migraine cascade.” This is a complex series of events that involve a number of actions and reactions and is essentially an inflammatory process. Relief products are designed specifically to help with the pain that's produced by the inflammation, which causes pain through intracranial pressure created by swelling and expanding vessels. The end result is pain along nerves of the head and sometimes the neck and face. So as you can see, a migraine is a specific and complicated event, and not simply a bad headache!

Migraine Pain Relief Methods

The pain of a migraine can be unbearable, and finding relief can seem impossible. My own migraine pain responds to pain-killers, but I can't take narcotic pain pills every time I have a migraine, since it often happens at work, in the middle of the day.

Over-the-counter pain pills can offer relief for migraine pain, and there are good non-narcotic treatments out there that can also help. There are several kinds of drugs that act to interrupt the migraine process before it even begins—these depend on you recognizing the headache, getting to the drug, and administering it as fast as possible. Some come in the form of nasal spray for extra-fast delivery. I myself have never been able to make these drugs work, but I know others swear by them. One problem is that you have to constantly have them on hand since you often don't see the headache coming. When I tried nasal inhalers, for instance, and it seemed that I would get a blind spot at the exact moment that my medicine was completely out of reach.

One promising mechanical migraine relief device is this cool massage ball with heat and vibration for trigger point relief. I have used a ball—actually a good old-fashioned 16-inch softball—in this way, and it does help. This device's addition of heat and a gentle vibe mimics another method—hot shower and massage—that also helps. This device applies heat and vibration to the specific spots that a migraine headache affects. As a migraine sufferer, I know that these headaches seem to focus on a fairly small spot or area of your skull. A ball like this could apply relief to a specific spot.

Relief Without Drugs

Relief for migraine pain is possible to a degree from devices like balls and neck pillows. These are generally known as mechanical migraine relief devices, which use heat, cold, and strategically applied pressure to alleviate pain and help you ride out the migraine. I have used this kind of device and they really help—they make it able for me to find the exact spot where pressure is needed (for some reason, pressing hard on the place where it hurts seems to reduce the pain). The addition of cool relief is also effective, although for me a hot shower is actually a little better than an ice pack. For fellow migraineurs with whom I have spoken, however, cold is the best.

One of the best of these "relief pillows" that have helped me is this migraine relief pillow, which applies pressure to parts of your head and counters the pressure in the cranial veins that actually causes the pain. It's a sensible, drug-free device that offers a way to get through the migraine process.

Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world.

What Can You Do About a Migraine?

New methods for soothing the pain of migraine headaches are constantly updating. This article offers some new thinking about real-world ways to alleviate migraines.

For those of us who suffer from migraine headaches, any form of relief is worth considering. There are several good products on the market now that aim to soothe and relieve the pain and distress, and some of them have worked for me. I have featured a couple of them here, along with some more general recommendations about the condition.

I myself have tried units that “cool” the head, and they do feel at least soothing, so in combination with Tylenol, you may find them worthwhile. Others products I have seen fellow-sufferers try with some success, including "migraine hats" that you can wear that come with support and cooling units. The goal is not so much intervention and “cure” as it is to soothe and relax. Part of a migraine is the stress and fear that zaps you the minute you realize you have a blind spot. Any migraine devices you might come across might to be worth considering.

Every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks.

Migraine Triggers

For me, and for many other migraine sufferers, a lot of time and energy is spent on finding what it is that triggers or starts the migraine process. This is often a frustrating search. Part of the issue, at least for me, is that triggers don’t always cause a migraine, but a migraine doesn’t start without them. For example, I now know that skipping a meal or letting myself get too hungry is almost always a condition before a migraine starts. But that’s not to say that every time I skip a meal or get really hungry I get a migraine. It takes a lot of detective work to ferret out a cause that doesn’t always result in an effect! Another trigger for me appears to be seasonal—I get migraines much more often in the spring and fall, for example. Windy days are also part of my migraine “trigger profile”—and in this at least I am not alone. I’ve been told that in parts of Europe the term “headache wind” refers to seasonal winds that tend to trigger a migraine in the people who live there.

Other triggers that people have identified for their own migraines include caffeine, red wine, and some cheeses. Clearly, there are things at work here that are beyond understanding at the moment, but everyone who experiences regular migraines is basically an experimental scientist in pursuit of their own solution to their own mystery.

Prodromes and Auras — Strange Warnings of an Impending Migraine

According to the Mayo Clinic, migraine is often preceded by a set of signs that are called "prodromes." My own prodromes are vague and hard to define, but they include restlessness and difficulty sleeping. The list from the Mayo Clinic includes the following:

  • Constipation
  • Mood changes, from depression to euphoria
  • Food cravings
  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Frequent yawning

Clearly, Migraine is an unusual condition. There's a lot more going on than a simple cause-and-effect headache. If you have a migraine, you need specific relief!

About 25% of migraine sufferers also have a visual disturbance called an aura, which usually lasts less than an hour.

The Migraine Aura

One of the most characteristic, and most unnerving, symptoms of a migraine is the presence of “aura,” a visual or sometimes tactile event that disrupts your usual vision and feeling. I have had visual auras since I was in my early twenties, sometimes resulting in a headache, but not always. I’m lucky in that way – as a person who suffers from so-called “visual migraines,” I often get the auras but not the terrible headaches (I do sometimes get headaches, though, and when they come they are terrible).

Aura is one of the weirdest parts of the migraine experience. They typically begin as a small, pinpoint blind spot in your field of vision. The spot slowly grows, giving the impression of slowly coming closer until it blots out about half of your field of vision. Within the aura spot is a jagged, dancing half-moon of light, beautiful in its own way, but inconvenient at best and deeply terrifying at worst. When I get an aura, I can’t drive or read, and it’s hard to hold a conversation with someone; often the best thing is to put my head down or find a dark room to rest in. Auras typically pass in about a half an hour, leaving you feeling odd and “disconnected” for the next hour or so. For me, aura disrupts my ability to put ideas and words together for a while. In some cases, it’s followed by a headache, and then it’s Tylenol 3 and I’m out of commission for at least the rest of the day.

Migraine Art and Aura

Migraine Aura Art -- this is exactly what my migraine auras are like.
Migraine Aura Art -- this is exactly what my migraine auras are like.

An Unusual Migraine Aura: Speech Disturbance on Live TV

Migraine tends to run in families. About 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine.

Migraine Aura Without Pain

Just when you think migraines can't get any weirder, they do -- some people, myself included, often have only the auras but not the pain. In my case, the instances of aura that are NOT followed by terrible pain have become more common as I age. Truly painful headaches are, for me, largely a thing of the past -- I am very, very fortunate. But I remember the pain of those frequent migraines. Some of the symptoms that you may experience if you have aura without pain are:

  • Seeing flashes or flickering light, the most common visual symptom of migraine
  • Seeing zigzag lines or waves, also called fortification illusions
  • Seeing spots, stars, halos, circles, lines, other shapes or colors
  • Blurry vision
  • Shimmering effects
  • Loss of vision, blind spots
  • Cloudy vision
  • Other vision changes
  • Seeing three-dimensional effects or geometric patterns
  • Seeing dark areas

I Hope We All Find Relief!

No matter what, I always find at least some relief by picturing my "happy place" -- a Caribbean beach, with waves and sand and sun. I hope that if you also suffer from these awful headaches you also have a good place to go to in your mind while you ride out the migraine.

Sources

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/dxc-20202434

American Migraine Foundation: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/living-with-migraines/types-of-headachemigraine/migraine-and-aura/

The Migraine Trust: https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/symptoms-and-stages/

"Migraine Aura Without Pain": https://migraine.com/migraine-aura/migraine-aura-without-pain/

http://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine

Questions & Answers

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      • Shyron E Shenko profile image

        Shyron E Shenko 17 months ago from Texas

        Greenmind, thank you, you explained the auras like no else ever has. I was diagnosed with migraines in my early teens. For me triggers are auras but I don’t always get an aura, chocolate will always trigger a migraine and sometimes I dream that I have a migraine and then I wake up with one, with nausea, and sometimes with vertigo.

        Hubby knows what to do, get me to the ER and I get the magic shot, and then I sleep (sometimes for two to three days) then when I wake up my head is sore, but the migraine is gone.

        The last one I had was 12/29/16.

        Thank you for writing this.

        Blessings Hopefully Painless

      • greenmind profile image
        Author

        GreenMind 18 months ago from USA

        Of course! Thanks for your comment.

      • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

        Sanjay Sharma 18 months ago from Mandi (HP) India

        Thanks for sharing the wonderful information.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 18 months ago

        Oh, the poor woman; I didn't have time to watch the video yesterday. My husband says that I would drive Eli Lily crazy.

      • greenmind profile image
        Author

        GreenMind 18 months ago from USA

        Wow that is an unusual migraine story -- they can be extremely odd, as the video clip of the woman having an attack live on air proves.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 18 months ago

        Yep and double yep. This is a good description, and I feel your pain. I am a former migraine headache sufferer. Mine were real weird. I had never had a headache in my life that I recalled. I was in a rear-ender at age 23 and diagnosed with whiplash. A few months later, I woke up in screaming pain and then it seems like the headaches would come out of nowhere. I even stayed with an abusive husband because I thought I couldn't work to support myself and my children. My husband wouldn't let me go to the doctor, so I finally divorced him. I took everything I could, but the best med I found was Fiorinal. After awhile even that stopped working.

        Finally, I remarried...this time to a man with some medical training and he was able to find my triggers. These were food allergies (practically anything I liked) and chemicals of any kind. Strangely enough, they were also estrogen driven because when I went through the change, my headaches are now mild enough to respond to OTC Tylenol. Then I started having ocular migraines. These are the strangest things. No pain at all, but imagine the CBS logo minus the sun face in the center. I still have these, but I can put up with them because they are painless. Weird, huh.

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