I’ve been seeing a neurologist for over a year now. You would think at this point, knowing this, people would stop asking me if I’m “drinking enough water.” (“That can cause headaches, you know.” Thanks. I know. And for the record, water is pretty much the only thing I drink.) But I know they are concerned and just trying to help.
I’m in week 3 of Biofeedback Therapy, my next adventure in migraine management. I was sent to Baylor Pain Management Center to meet with a biofeedback therapist who gave me quite an education on the brain and how pain works.
Chronic pain happens when the brain forgets to turn off the “pain alert” system. It can also occur when the body is still in recovery from the pain. The brain eventually learns to expect pain to be there, and sort of gears up for it even if it’s not going happen. You can train your body to stop chronic pain through learning to control your parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts your sympathetic nervous system, or stress response (“fight or flight”). You are taught to slow down your breathing, heart beat, muscles and organs. You do this through breath control, mindfulness practice, and other relaxation training.
A more skeptical person might think this sounds kinda hokey. Glorified relaxation training. But, there are a lot of institutions that are paying more attention to the mind-body connection (thankfully) because of recent studies. I’ve always been a believer in a more holistic approach, so I am optimistic about this treatment. When paired with prescription medication, it is proven to decrease severity and frequency of migraines by 70%. I’ll take it.
During my appointment, I get hooked up to a computer that measures my breathing, skin moisture, shakiness, and skin temperature. I watch the levels of each of these on a screen, and during training I can see my body reacting in real time (try to “breathe naturally” while watching it happen on a screen!). I get a relaxation lesson and some reading material, and then I have to practice the relaxation techniques twice a day for 20-30 minutes. Generally I will meditate in the morning, then in the evening I will listen to one of the guided relaxation CDs that my therapist gives me. Occasionally I fall asleep during the session, but she assures me that I’m still getting something out of it.
It takes about 3 months of practice to affect a change in pain. So, here we go. If nothing else, I had a few good naps.