Migraine, Allodynia, and Central Sensitization
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2022 | Last updated: April 2023
Migraines can be responsible for symptoms beyond headaches. But, sometimes, it is not clear how these other symptoms relate to migraines. One such symptom is called allodynia. Allodynia causes sensitivity and pain all over the body. About 40 percent to 70 percent of people also experience allodynia when they are having a migraine attack.1,2
What is allodynia?
Allodynia is the name for experiencing pain from something that should not cause pain. Some people may describe this as saying their hair hurts. You can experience allodynia in places besides the head. For some people, it may feel like sunburn all over the body.1
Things that may trigger pain from allodynia include:1
- Brushing your hair
- Washing your face
- Your face touching a pillow
- A gentle touch
The pain from allodynia can be independent of migraine pain. Sometimes, allodynia does not end when other migraine symptoms do.1
What are the different types?
There are 3 types of allodynia:1,2
- Static allodynia – pain is triggered by light touch to the skin.
- Dynamic allodynia – pain is triggered by movement across the skin.
- Thermal allodynia – pain is triggered by changing temperature.
What causes allodynia?
Allodynia is caused by a malfunction in the way your nervous system processes pain. This malfunction is called central sensitization. You do not need to have migraines to have central sensitization, but the conditions are related. Central sensitization is also related to other conditions, including:1,3
- Restless leg syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
The nervous system serves as a communication system in the body. But sometimes, nerves can send incorrect messages.1,3
In central sensitization, the nervous system operates in a state of high reactivity. This high reactivity can cause the nerves that transmit pain signals to not react properly. They start sending pain signals without proper reason. This can be as a response to touch, sensations, or temperatures that should not normally cause pain.1,3
Researchers do not know exactly how central sensitization is related to migraines. But central sensitization can be a sign of more serious migraine attacks. It can also be a warning sign that someone’s migraines will become more frequent or serious. However, more research is needed to fully understand the connection.2,3
Who experiences allodynia?
It is not clear why some people with migraines have allodynia. Allodynia is more common in people who have migraines with aura. Aura is a type of sensory symptom that causes seeing flashes of light, blind spots, and other vision changes. Allodynia is also more common in:1,2
- People with serious or frequent migraines
- People who have had migraines for a long time
How can you treat allodynia?
Allodynia increases the risk of occasional migraines, progressing to chronic migraines. It is important to start treatment early. Treating migraines early may prevent the condition from becoming worse. Allodynia may also change how your body reacts to migraine treatment. So it can help to ensure that your doctor is aware of your symptoms.1,2
Unfortunately, once the allodynia pain has started, it is difficult to treat. Treatment for allodynia is aimed at preventing it. Preventive migraine treatments can lower the risk of allodynia. Healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise and stress management can also reduce the risk of migraines and side effects like allodynia.2,3
Which are you most sensitive to?