Relaxation Therapies for Migraine Pain Management

Breathing techniques for migraines

We have always taken breathing for granted but do we really know how to breathe correctly?  A lot of us do not know that this seemingly simple breathing function can affect not only our feelings but also our tolerance  in our day-to-day activities and more importantly for migraine sufferers, the tolerance of migraine headache or migraine flare ups.

It is the autonomicor parasympathetic nervous system that controls breathing. We do not routinely focus on our breathing as we have our brainstem controlling the rate of breathing, the depth of inspiration and expiration and the overall breathing mechanics for us. Unfortunately, during an acute migraine attack, this breathing pattern can often be disrupted. Very often, the breathing pattern is accelerated with shallow and rapid respirations. This can cause changes in body and blood chemistries that can perpetuate this cycle of blood vessel spasm in the brain and chemical toxins circulating throughout the body, which may ultimately aggravate your migraine headache pain syndrome. Incorrect breathing can actually reinforce the headache pain syndrome which is something no migraine sufferer wants to have happen.

However, our overall breathing process can actually be corrected through a feedback mechanism to the brain and brainstem. Correct breathing can also have a positive impact on other body functions such as:

  • heart rate
  • pulse
  • blood pressure
  • stomach function
  • intestinal function.

We can slow down or even reverse the nausea that usually accompanies a migraine attack as well as even reducing the pain messages being transmitted to the brain. Correct breathing can be an effective first line of defense in the pain management of acute migraine headache.

How to breathe properly?

During a migraine attack, one of the process that happens is a “dumping” of brain chemicals. One of these chemicals, adrenalin, is a key component in our “fight or flight” nervous system. Too much adrenalin will cause the heart to beat rapidly, breathing to become shallow and improper usage of the lung muscles such as the diaphragm and accessory or assistant muscles.  When our accessory muscles are used, we often experience increased tension around the neck and head and muscle tightness which then leads to discomfort and sometimes even muscle spasm. Pain is increased by this muscle spasm which reinforces the adrenalin system ultimately becoming a vicious downhill cycle that can in turn cause overproduction of breakdown products and toxins that circulate in the bloodstream.

Hence it is crucial to stop this vicious cycle by focusing on our breathing and learning the proper breathing techniques. A deep breathing from the diaphragm (the main lung muscle) allows you to focus on the stomach muscles and move the diaphragm slowly, in a controlled fashion. Begin learning this deep breathing technique in a quiet and calm environment during a non-migraine headache attack. Learn until you become comfortable with the relaxation techniques as this will make it easier to apply these techniques to your headache pain management when acute migraine attack or crisis happens.

Follow this deep-breathing techniques:

  • Place one hand on the stomach.
  • While taking in a deep breath, try to push out on the stomach muscles.
  • While breathing slowly and steadily, with a deep inhale and a slow exhale, focus on the abdominal muscles.
  • Repeating this cycle three or four times has been proven to be relaxing, even when you are not suffering from a  headache.
  • The key is in finding the right rhythm and pace that is right for your own self rather than trying to fit into some recommended breathing pattern.

Upon successfully mastering this simple correct breathing technique, perform it immediately upon the onset of headache discomfort. If there are any prodrome (warning) or premonition that a sick headache is coming on, quickly start the deep breathing process. So begin learning this invaluable breathing technique by setting aside a few minutes two or three times daily to practice until you master it.  There is no doubt that deep breathing can actually act as a positive, preventive treatment for migraine pain.