Day 6 - Headaches and Migraine and The Big Squeeze
Headaches and migraines affect a lot of people, and, I believe, adoptees in particular. I started having migraines in graduate school and they shocked me, the way everything could be fine and then my vision would shatter and I’d have to pull to the side of the road or put down whatever I was doing and cover my eyes and pop a pill and wait until I could see again.
I got into massage almost twenty years ago because I found a bodyworker who told me one reason I was getting migraines was that my neck muscles were tight. The doctor I had gone to previously had just given me a prescription for Imitrex. I’m not sure he looked at my neck. I know he didn’t touch it. So when I learned I had more control over my body and the pain messages it was sending me, I wanted in.
I have been studying bodywork ever since, and while I still get migraines if I don’t get enough sleep or if I eat or drink things that are triggers (red wine, chocolate, blue cheese—I know, I know. In another life I will bathe in those things and eat and drink my way out.), now when I feel one coming on, I check my suboccipitals and my sternocleidomastoid. I pinch my eyebrows and look for trigger points there. I squeeze the meaty part of my hand between my thumb and my forefinger and look for trigger points there.
You’ll know a trigger point when you find it because you’ll squeeze your eyebrow or hand and it will hurt,and you may also have referred pain—that’s when the pain also shows up somewhere else: the top of your head, for example, or wherever the headache or migraine presents. The pain stops the minutes you stop squeezing—but have courage: squeeze gently for about a minute and see if the pain dissipates. If you squeeze the trigger point like you want to kill it you may well irritate it further. A little goes a long way. Some trigger points take many, many sessions of squeezing to be convinced to relax and join its fellow muscle fibers at the beach.
As a further side note, trigger points are wild. There are trigger points in your sternocleidomastoid muscle that send people mistakenly to the dentist for molar pain, and the dentist, not schooled in these rascally muscular Patty Hearsts, yank the tooth, and the pain, of course, remains. Shoulda squeezed, Brother.
Let’s play with your body. Stand in front of a mirror and pull your chin back until what looks like the ropes angling from behind your ear to your sternum pop out. Mine are like angled handles on the side of my neck because I have a head-forward posture and I carry a lot of tension in my neck as a whole. I have been working on this for years and years but have had little change. This is yet another reason I’m doing this 93-day adventure. I have a feeling that if I get my gut to calm, the rest of my body will be easier to soothe.
Now that you can see this muscle, take your left hand and gently try to take a hold of the muscle mid-neck and pull at it slightly, like you’re going to take if off and put it in your pocket, but gently, persuasively. The muscle is like an upside down Y—it splits and connects both at the clavicle and sternum. Hence the long name—the muscle originates at these two places (sternoand cleid) and then inserts up at the mastoidprocess (think mastication—the jaw bone).
To look for trigger points, start in the thicker middle of the muscle where you are now, and gently squeeze your way to the top, behind your ear. It can be like trying to pull a reluctant child off the floor so use patience and breath. Sometimes the muscle may feel glued to the muscles and beneath it. That’s called adhesions. That’s called limited mobility. We don’t want that shit, so keep squeezing. Work your way back down, past the middle, down the road of muscle to where it splits. Squeeze one arm of the Y and then seek out the other. The part that attaches to your clavicle can be harder to access: the muscle gets thinner and may feel more more fibrous and less muscley, but play around. Your body loves to be touched. Increased blood flow is payday for your system.
If you start to blackout, stop. The carotid artery is buried deep in your neck, but I have no idea how aggressive you are when it comes to self care, and the purpose here is relief, not a trip to the ER.
The primary action of the SCM (Look! You are learning anatomy shorthand!) is to rotate your head to the opposite side and to flex your neck (moving your chin closer to your chest). The more freedom you have in this muscle, the easier these actions should be. You won’t have to turn your whole upper body when you check for oncoming traffic at stop signs!
You can do this squeezing routine one or two times up and down a few times a day. If the muscle starts feeling tender and overworked that’s because it’s tender and overworked. Ease up. You can bully a trigger point, but it’s going to act out and let you know. It may even hurt when you aren’t squeezing it.
Joan Didion has a wonderful essay about migraine called In Bed. While I loved to see I was not alone when I had to retire to a dark room, it wasn’t where I wanted to stay. I am curious to see what happens to my headaches and occasional migraines when I follow the food plan Dr. Mark Lucas gave to me and when I do a better job of getting regular massage.
I have high hopes.
I’ve lost five pounds this week, by the way, which is strange. I’ve done this food plan of Dr. Mark’s before and always stayed about the same weight, but I had a funny feeling this time was going to be different because I went in with more of a fearless attitude and a greater willingness to change. I’m not hungry. I feel really good. I thought my set point weight was 150, but now I’m seeing maybe that was the weight I had when I was holding on to a lot of old thoughts and beliefs and patterns.
I keep having to pull up my pants.
See you tomorrow.
(The photo shows where trigger points are commonly found on the sternal branch of the SCM. The red areas show referred pain patters.)