My Take on Physical Therapy for Migraine

By Jorie – 
Mantra: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

Wow, this is my first blog post since early August. I guess time flies when you’re having fun…or maybe when you’re having an average of 25 migraine days per month. I have so much to tell, though! Brace yourselves for a long blog post!

First, I’d like to mention that I officially “dumped” my neurologist and will be seeing another at UVA hospital in December. Until then, I’m fending for myself, and that’s a long time to go without a neurologist’s care for someone like me. I still have all my medications, but much of the time that’s just not enough.

So, in the meantime, I want to talk about an alternative, natural, non-invasive treatment for migraines that I have found to be extremely effective. Sometimes stepping away from convention does us good.

Physical Therapy for Migraine

There are tons of alternatives to migraine medication out there. I’ve never been ashamed of being medicated, but I’ve always wished I could find relief in more natural ways, apart from changing my diet and exercise habits. I never bought into many of them until a family friend suggested I try physical therapy. You’re probably thinking, “Really? Physical therapy?” Yes, really!

She mentioned this idea to me only a couple weeks ago and I was (skeptically) hooked. While at the PT clinic one day, she met a woman in the lobby, and after some conversation she discovered that this woman was being treated for her migraines there. She said she immediately thought of me, and I thought, “why not?” It’s definitely worth a shot in my book. The rest is history.

I sent the owner of the practice (I’ll be referring to her as “C.”) an email the next day, mid-migraine and feeling desperate. She responded, briefly explaining their techniques, but I felt defeated when she mentioned the wait list was well into November or December. However, C. added that two more therapists at the practice specialize in this migraine treatment, one of them having a much shorter wait list. She urged me to call and speak with the receptionist.

Later that day, I called the office with admittedly low expectations. To my surprise, the receptionist said there was an opening that Friday, the last until mid-October, for new patients. I had called on a Wednesday, so this was fantastic! I immediately told her I’d take it.

So, What is Fascial Counterstrain?

In my initial appointment, the owner, C., explained that this would be a pre-evaluation and she wouldn’t be my regular therapist, so my regular therapist will be “K.” She went on to get my profile set up and elaborated on the techniques used for migraine physical therapy treatment, the primary one being fascial counterstrain.

As C. explained the process, I felt both doubtful and enticed. I’ve always been one to love learning new things, but I also tend to be rather realistic. I must admit it sounded a lot like the couch doctor pseudo-medicine, but I quickly learned that it works AMAZINGLY. As we discussed my medical history, she turned to me and said, “I can really tell you are a researcher; you are very up to date with migraine research.” She then wrote down a few references for me to take home and learn more about fascial counterstrain (see links at the end of this post).

So, before I jump into the actual experience, let me explain the concept of fascial counterstrain. This therapeutic technique was not fully developed until the late 2000’s, and still doesn’t get much attention today since it is such a complex therapy. According to C., there are only two clinics in the state of Virginia that offer this specialized therapy for migraine patients. Shocking, I know.

(Images via Perry Physical Therapy and Tuckey Physical Therapy)

The method is a more “advanced” version of the old strain counterstrain, but one of the main differences between the two is how fascial counterstrain gives ample attention to the body’s fascia, also known as the deep connective tissue (see image above). Fascia fundamentally protect the body from toxins, and when the fascia become inflamed, we will often feel pain, tension, or soreness as a result of the body’s defense mechanisms.

Fascial counterstrain places emphasis on releasing toxins from the body, whether it be lymphatic, vascular, dural, or otherwise. The body works in miraculous ways, every system intricately connecting to another.

Brian Tuckey is the first physical therapist to ultimately refine this technique, and he has branded it as his own and offers advanced courses for learning about fascial counterstrain in physical therapy. The main idea behind his findings is that healing chronic pain should be performed not on the muscles, but on the level of the fascia, nerves, blood vessels, and other underlying structures. Here is an excerpt explaining fascial counterstrain taken from Tuckey’s website:

“One of the many benefits of fascial counterstrain is that it can be used to treat dysfunction in any of the body’s soft tissue systems. This includes the body’s master system, the nervous system. The nervous system controls the body’s pain perception, movements, senses, digestion, vascular flow, cognition, proprioception and emotional responses. Thus unimpeded function of the nervous system is vital for our body to maintain homeostasis, function normally, and remain disease free.” – (via http://tuckeypt.com/fascial-counterstrain-for-the-nervous-system/)

I’m no expert on the subject (it’s a bit more scientific than I’m familiar with), but from all the self-research I’ve done over the last few days, I can certainly see how this is an effective treatment for many chronic pain conditions. I just wish more people knew about it! The clinic I am now a patient at has been just five minutes away from my house this whole time. All I can do is be full of gratitude that I now know about it.

My First Experience

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I was pleasantly greeted by the owner of the practice, C., as I sat in what they call “The Bird Room” (pictured above). Each room has a different theme, which I thought was interesting. C. meets with each new patient to evaluate their body and health needs, then sends them off with one of the other two therapists since her wait list is so long.

To begin, C. measured my range of motion, telling me that mine is “near perfect, but lacking on the right side.” Hmm, I learn something new every day. She then had me rest on the bed shown in the image above and began feeling my scalp, which was more like a strange massage to be honest. It’s an odd sensation that’s hard for me to put into words. She worked on my body from the chest up, finding tender points and using those as a reference to manipulate my fascia, which also connect to my head and neck to relieve pressure. The existence of these painful points, she explained, shows that I have a chronic dysfunction of the dura mater or vascular system. In short terms: chronic migraines.

After a few moments, the painful areas were completely gone and I could feel tension releasing with each new healed point. I kept saying, “you’re blowing my mind!” over and over…because it’s true, I was shocked. This went on for about an hour as she worked on my arms, shoulders, chest, back, and neck, mentioning that the back of my neck and occipital region, as well as my right temporal region, held an overabundance of tension (in her words: “this is HUGE!”) I think we were both astonished with how well my body responded to the therapy, especially since she’s never had a case like mine.

C. explained that as she relieved the pain I felt in these nerve clusters, my body would begin detoxing by relaxing out tension and flushing toxins out through my lymphatic system and finally through my bladder. She said staying extra hydrated was key over the weekend, as my body would use more water as it went through this process.

As a chronic migraineur, I have pain almost 24/7. From full-blown migraine or a dull headache, to eye strain or neck stiffness, I haven’t experienced a 100% pain-free moment in a very long time. I always have some level of tension or pain in my head or neck. Fatigue floods my body often. So after the session ended, I was in pure astonishment that all these ailments had vanished.

I sat up from the therapy bed and felt momentarily dizzy, but I could immediately sense that I was feeling so much better already—almost 100%! My head felt light and weightless and my neck had no stiffness. It felt wonderful! I told C. many times that she was working magic. I even cried as I got up to leave because I felt so overjoyed to be pain-free.

The After Effects

For the rest of the day I felt great–no pain, no fatigue, no stiffness. Over the next day and into the weekend, I had some strange symptoms, but I was assured by C. that these are normal as my body detoxes. But the best part: I was able to get out and enjoy a beautiful, pain and tension free day on Saturday!

By the time I went to bed on Friday night, I had the sensation of tightness over my forehead and scalp. It felt taut with a bit of pressure, but no pain. When I woke up Saturday morning, my lymph nodes were slightly sore, which continued throughout the day. As I consciously stayed hydrated, I felt better and better. This is now the 4th day, and I must say I’m still feeling great!

I will provide an update after a few more weeks of fascial counterstrain treatment to let you all know how it’s going, but I am truly hopeful for the first time in a long time.

 

More detailed references from my PT:
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