At this point, I've lost track of how many articles I've seen that describe Migraines as "severe, throbbing headaches." Unfortunately, it's all too common to find that description. Unfortunately, because it's incorrect. When I come across such articles, I just click off the page without reading more.
Migraines aren't exactly headaches. They're flare-ups or episodes that can include a headache as a symptoms, but can occur with no headache. Today, however, I want to discuss the pain of a Migraine attack.
The headache, when there is one...
- can range from mild to severe in intensity.
- is often, but not always, unilateral (one-sided).
- is often, but not always, throbbing - also called pulsatile.
- is usually aggravated by physical activity.
Light worsens the pain of a Migraine for many of us, but until a couple of years ago, nobody really understood why. In 2010, researchers discovered a new pathway in the brain that explains it. Dr. Rami Burstein commented:
"We had no clue in the world where in the world light and pain talk to each other in the brain. They have completely different pathways in the brain...
We identified a new pathway in the brain that originates in the eye and goes to the brain areas where neurons are found that are active during migraine attacks. The light can increase the electrical activity in neurons that are active to begin with."3
You can read more about this in Why Light Worsens Migraine Pain.
Other 2010 research revealed that not only is neck pain a possible symptom of Migraine, but that it's more common in Migraine than nausea. Calhoun et. al. concluded:
"Neck pain is a common and integral feature of migraine. In this sample of Migraineurs, neck pain was more commonly associated with migraine than was nausea, one of the defining characteristics of the disorder. Greater awareness of neck pain as an associated symptom of migraine may improve diagnostic accuracy and have a beneficial impact on time to treatment."4
You can read more about this in Neck Pain as a Migraine Symptom.
Migraine and the pain associated with it aren't as simple as once thought or as some articles make them out to be. The research of the last few years has helped and taught us a great deal. Please choose your reading material carefully to be sure you're getting as much accurate information as possible.
September is Pain Awareness Month
Check out other information in
our Dealing with Pain special.
1 The International Headache Society. "The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition (ICHD-II), 1st revision." Cephalalgia 2005; 25.
2 Noseda, Rodrigo; Kainz, Vanessa; Jakubowski, Moshe; Gooley, Joshua J.; Saper, Clifford B.; Digre, Kathleen; Burstein, Rami. "A neural mechanism for exacerbation of headaches by light." Nature Neuroscience. Advance Online Publication; January 10, 2010.
3 Gardner, Amanda. "Why Light Hurts During Migraine." HealthDay News. January 10, 2010.
4 Calhoun, Anne H., MD; Ford, Sutapa, PhD; Millen, Cori, DO; Finkel, Alan G., MD; Truong, Young, PhD; Nie, Yonghong, MS. "The Prevalence of Neck Pain in Migraine." Headache. Published Online: Jan. 20, 2010.