Spotlight on Hemiplegic Migraines

Apr 2, 2017

Here at Taylored-fit Physio, we regularly see patients suffering with migraines, cluster headaches,tension headaches and headaches due to anxiety, trauma and injury.

One rare kind of migraine is hemiplegic migraine. As the name suggests, symptoms often mimic those of a stroke, involving pain and muscle weakness, often on one side of the body, vision changes, problems with speech, and head pain. There may be a link genetically, and run in families, or it may occur randomly with no previous history.

Typically, it is diagnosed in childhood, and is usually managed medically with medication, which may or may not help. The stroke like symptoms can range from worrying to disabling. They usually go away within 24 hours but can last up to a week. Over the last 5 years, I have treated 3 people with hemiplegic migraines. According to research, hemiplegic migraine can affect 0.01% of the population, or 1 in 10,000. My patients were all teenagers and all were female.  At their initial appointment, they were really restricted with their day to day lives, both physically in terms of their inability to go to school /college, and  unable to take part in sport or hobbies. Emotionally, all were anxious and fearful of their next ‘attack’.

I would like to introduce you to a lovely patient of mine called Jesse who would like to share her experience with you.

“Being diagnosed with hemiplegic migraine has been a great struggle. Especially at the young age of 19. Just when I was starting to grow as an adult and finding my path in life. When I experience a hemiplegic migraine episode, my body becomes very weak, sometimes to the point of being unable to move my arms and legs or hold objects. My speech can be affected, and I can become very confused. Of course there’s the pain, all down my arms, face and head. This can last up to a week, or even just a few hours. The recovery can sometimes be just as hard, having the feeling of a constant hangover. Due to dealing with all this, I had to stop my college education and my social life became non existent. I slowly became very dependant and rarely did I leave the house. The fear of having a migraine attack out in public scared me.

Doctors prescribed me medication after medication, which the majority of the time made me feel worse. I tried things like propanolol, amitryptiline and topiramate.

I became very stressed and lost motivation to finding a way of getting better. I tried cutting out foods and introducing more foods into my diet. I also tried exercise, and herbal remedies. I truly found nothing that did me any good.

My mother came across craniosacral therapy. At first I was very unsure but at last I had hope with my migraines. With my first few sessions I felt uneasy and found it hard to relax. But I didn’t give up, and I’m very glad I didn’t. It has done so much for me and has had an amazing effect on my migraines – changing them from everyday to maybe once a month. Not only has the therapy helped my migraines, but also my confidence and anxiety. I have been having it for around 3 years now and still continue with it. I don’t get it as much as I used to when I first started with the therapy, once in awhile I will have a session and it is a healthy balance that works. Onwards and upwards!”

It has been a privilege to help Jessie and facilitate her road to recovery and management of her symptoms. When I see the young lady before me now, it is like a different woman. She is now more confident, she has a job, she has passed her driving test and is enjoying time with friends and family. Basically doing what most 23 year olds are doing. What a contrast to the person I first met in 2013. A housebound teenager, anxious, fearful with little quality of life. I had almost forgotten how severely Jesse’s symptoms affected her  then. When I look back at my notes and see ‘aphasic for a few days’ (unable to speak),  ‘collapsed  at home, found by sister and rushed to hospital’.

Then the positive contrast to ‘only mild headache’, ‘running a few times a week’, ‘playing basketball’.

Get you Jesse, you rock! I’m proud of you, and I hope you inspire others x

I don’t feel like the craniosacral therapy ‘fixed’ anything – that isn’t, and never is, our aim. We merely facilitate the system to reduce and relieve restrictions, thereby helping to reduce pain, reduce fear, anxiety, aid sleep and so on. Our bodies are so complex, we can’t and shouldn’t try and pigeon hole, but allow time, and space to adjust.

As a physiotherapist with some other skills, I feel in a good position to help my patients find the right route for them, and support them in their choices.

Thank you for listening, I hope you’re more familiar with hemiplegic migraines.

Do please share, and help spread the word, not only about hemiplegic migraines, but what Taylored-fit Physio may be able to do for you!

Vicky Smith