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Migraine - it's not just a headache

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Approximately 20% of Australians experience migraine and of that number 71% of migraine sufferers are female.

Are you one of the 4.9 million people in Australia that suffer with migraines?

That’s approximately 20% of our population in Australia.

If you are a woman, it’s even more likely that you get struck down with the throbbing pain that is a migraine headache with 71% of sufferers being female.

While migraine can often first appear in the earlier years of childhood or adolescence it causes most trouble for people in their mid-30s to mid-40s. Headache Australia report that migraine is more prevalent than diabetes and unfortunately in about 50% of sufferers they remain un-diagnosed and untreated.

Migraines are not just a headache. They are a complex neurological disorder and include a range of symptoms the most common being intense pain. This pain often going hand in hand with other unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizzy spells and sensitivity to light and smells. Migraines are a debilitating experience and when affected sufferers find the navigation of day-to-day activities close to impossible.


What do childhood migraines look like?

In children presentation of migraine can often be a a ‘stomach migraine’.

Migraine can first occur at a very young age. Often children and young adolescents who are affected will experience what is referred to as a ‘stomach migraine’. At this early age we see the split between males and females being quite equal.

Migraine Australia report the youngest presentation of migraine to actually be colic! Colic is a condition that occurs in infancy when babies cry excessively for no apparent reason. While abdominal migraines inclusive of vomiting, diarrhea and / or constipation are the most common presentation of the condition in childhood there is recorded cases of migraine involving headache as young as 18 months old. Due to the fact that migraines tend towards abdominal presentation in childhood they are often misdiagnosed as IBS or other digestive disorders. Interestingly kids who experience migraines may also show to be more inclined to car sickness.

For children with migraine most will have experienced their first headache attack before the age of 12. Hormones can wreak havoc for adolescent migraine sufferers with headaches becoming quite aggressive during this time. It is from the age of 17 or so that many young males will begin to experience more stability and even improvement in symptoms. Females unfortunately bear the brunt of the condition with many finding their symptoms continue to evolve or continue well into their later years.


Quick Migraine cheat sheet:

Migraines differ from tension and other headaches and include the presence of a combination of the following factors:

Migraines differ from headaches due to some of the other side effects such as light sensitivity, nausea and one sided pain.

Pain that is:

  • Moderate to severe throbbing pain

  • Pain more likely to be one sided

  • Pain is usually by movement

Additional symptoms can include:

  • Light sensitivity

  • Noise sensitivity

  • Sensitivity to smell

  • Nausea and / or Vomiting

  • Visual disturbance including flashing, blind spots, zig zag lines known as Aura

  • Poor concentration

  • General unwellness

  • Affected Co-ordination

  • Tingling / Pins and Needles / Numbness / Limb weakness

  • Stiff and Painful neck and shoulders

  • Extended duration of pain. Lasting 4hours to several days

There can be many external triggers for migraine sufferers. They vary broadly from person to person, and they can be tricky to identify particularly when there is a combination of influences that result in a migraine.

The following are more common triggers:

Dietary Influences:

  • Some alcoholic beverages - wines, beers, and spirits

  • Chocolate

  • Citrus Fruit

  • Aged Cheese

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)

  • Dehydration

  • Reduction or cutting out caffeine

  • Eating inconsistently, hunger and missing meals

Lifestyle and Environmental Influences:

  • Flickering or bright lights

  • Strong smells

  • Travel / Flying

  • Changes in the weather

  • Loud noise

  • Movies

  • Computers

  • Poor sleep patterns, a lack of sleep

  • A period of illness

  • Pain in the back or neck

  • Stress

  • Sudden increase in movement / exercise

Hormonal Influences:

  • Menstruation

  • Ovulation

  • Contraceptives

  • HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy

  • Menopause

  • Pregnancy


Life cycle of a migraine

Being able to identify where you are in your 'migraine' timeline can be a very helpful management tool.

The triggers of a migraine and the combination of symptoms experienced will be unique to each individual. Understanding symptoms specific to you can be extremely helpful in the management of migraine. It’s particularly useful to be aware of the first phase symptoms which indicate the early stages of an attack. Identifying these symptoms assists in being able to respond to symptoms before they reach a more difficult / unpleasant phase.

Migraine Australia recognises 6 phases of a Migraine Cycle, and I will briefly describe them below:

Phase 1 – Premonitory

This is a warning phase that a migraine attack has begun or is imminent. These signs include:

  • Changes in mood

  • Cravings for specific foods

  • Yawning

  • Foggy headedness

  • Disturbed sleep patterns

  • The need for more frequent urination

  • Nausea

  • Stiffness and aches

  • Difficulty with language and speech

Phase 2 – Aura

One third of migraine sufferers experience the symptoms relating to Aura.

  • Disturbance to visual field

  • Numbness and / or weakness

  • Difficulty with speech and confusion

  • Dizzy spells

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

Phase 3 – Acute

This is sometimes referred to as the ‘headache phase’ it’s important to note that not all migraine sufferers experience a headache.

  • Headache

  • Nausea leading to vomiting

  • Giddiness / feeling unstable

  • Insomnia

  • Congestion

  • Mood changes

  • Light, sound, and smell sensitivities

  • Neck pain

Phase 4 – Resolution

Migraine can cease in different ways; some tend to lesson and fade out. Others stop quite suddenly.

  • Sudden end to acute phase symptoms

  • Immediate need for sleep

  • Fatigue

  • A sense of euphoria or sudden sense of feeling good.

Phase 5 – Postdrome

This phase is sometimes referred to as a ‘migraine hangover’.

  • Fatigue

  • Low or depressed mood

  • Brain fog

  • Slow to comprehend

Phase 6 – Interictal

This is the period of time between migraine attacks where all is well.

  • No symptoms


More on Migraine Aura’s

As described above not all migraine sufferers will experience an aura, however it is known to affect around one third of sufferers. Of those people who do experience Aura’s, some may not experience them with each migraine, and others may experience an aura without the headache component of a migraine! This is known as a ‘silent migraine’.

Flashes of colour, spots & strobe are all symptoms of an aura.

Common visual symptoms of an aura:

  • Lines in the visual field – straight, zig zag or spiral

  • Seeing black spots in your visual field

  • Loosing part or all vision

  • Having ‘holes’ in your vision

  • Seeing incorrect colours or random colours

  • Strobe light experience

  • Having an altered perception of depth or size (Alice in Wonderland Syndrome)

  • White dots across entire visual field, ‘visual snow’

Other types of auras:

  • Feeling pins and needles or numbness on one side of the body

  • Speech difficulty inclusive of difficulty speaking and reading

  • Motor weakness such as clumsiness, grip strength changes, facial droop, and paralysis

  • Dizziness

  • Changes to taste and smell

As you have no doubt noted many symptoms of migraine aura are interchangeable with other neurological conditions such as transient ischemic attack (TIA) or seizures. Experiencing migraine auras can also put you at a higher risk of stroke so it is extremely important that any neurological symptoms that are new or concerning are checked by a specialist.


Traditional Chinese Medicine and Migraine

Supporting patients who suffer from migraine, and all other variety of headache, is a common practice for Scott at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture.


As with every condition that walks through the door at Red Bridge, the migraine itself is not what we would consider the root cause of our patients’ problem. It does however represent a symptom of an internal imbalance that they are experiencing. What we are looking to resolve is not only the immediate pain or discomfort that our patient is experiencing but more importantly the underlying imbalance which is leading to a re occurrence of the symptoms.

We can learn more about where the imbalances exist by exploring in detail the diet, lifestyle, and hormonal patterns of our patient. This exploration can uncover areas of imbalance that are disrupting the body’s harmony. Tracking your migraines and the triggers associated with them by using a headache journal is a common suggestion in the Western Medicine. This approach is great and something we would also suggest. It’s extremely helpful in the isolating and clarification of triggers and is supportive in paving the way to migraine prevention by helping us to identify that important first phase of symptoms.

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the experience of pain as a result of a stagnation of the Qi and Blood. Many of our organ systems are involved in the process of nourishing the head so a deficiency or excess in any number of areas could result in migraine and / or headache. For long lasting resolution of symptoms, it is important for treatment to be tailored to the individual.

Treatment will always be tailored to the individual. Whilst certain patterns do exist there will always be unique considerations from patient to patient. By treating this way, we can ensure the long-lasting success of the treatment.

That said some of the more common patterns we see associated with Migraine include:

  • Stagnation of Liver Qi

  • Excess of Liver Yang

  • Blood Stasis

  • Damp

  • Phlegm

All of these patterns can influence the chance of reoccurring migraine pain.


Liver Excess is a pattern that we see most regularly in patients with migraine symptoms. Using the Yin and Yang channels of the Liver and Gallbladder particularly the point Zu Lin Qi or Gallbladder 41 can be a very effective way of resolving Qi movement and regaining balance. Zu Lin Qi or Gallbladder 41 is located on the foot and works well for drawing any Liver excess down and balancing excess heat energy.

Acupuncture and many other great complimentary therapies such as massage therapy and chiropractic care are generating an extremely good reputation for their ability to support Migraine sufferers. In fact, when I explored Headache Australia’s online there was links and information supporting a great number of migraine preventive care resources.

I have a great list of practitioners in Healesville and the surrounding area that I often share my patient care with. Depending on what I the influencing factors of migraine are I will also often suggest my patients seek out Chiropractic care, Remedial or Shiatsu massage and gentle movement such as Yoga or Pilates to support their recovery.

Whilst Acupuncture holds a history rich with examples of the successful support of many different health issues, 3000 years in fact, we are still undertaking a process of scientific studies to support the use of Acupuncture alongside Western Medicine.

Amongst these studies are the findings on the prevention and care of migraine, tension headache and several different types of chronic. Pleasingly these investigations have provided strong evidence that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of these conditions.

If you are interested in diving into some of these studies you will find the links below:

  • A 2015 study Acupuncture for migraine prevention’ - Found that “Acupuncture seems to be at least as effective as conventional drug preventative therapy for migraine and is safe, long lasting, and cost-effective. It is a complex intervention that may prompt lifestyle changes that could be valuable in patients' recovery.”

  • The Author conclusion from the 2016 update of a previous Cochrane review Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine.’ in 2009 includes the statement “The available evidence suggests that adding acupuncture to symptomatic treatment of attacks reduces the frequency of headaches.”



If you would like to find out more about how we can help you with chronic migraines or headaches you can get in touch with us on our website, any of our social media pages (links available on web) or by calling (03)59061494.

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