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Migraine and Physical Therapy – Stepping off the Edge

Migraine and Physical Therapy – Stepping off the Edge

Migraines have been so disabling for me for so long, that the body which used to be athletic and strong, barely even resembles what it did just before disability. Bebes, you should have seen my abs, lol.

I’m at the stage of my Migraine disease that appearances really don’t matter to me anymore though. It’s all about how I feel. So, I reluctantly let myself go, because in all my terrible pain, that’s what felt better.

I did undergo physical therapy multiple times, all resulting in greatly increased Migraine triggers that I can’t even begin to explain. I flunked it each time.  The old personal trainer in me took it over myself, with varying results. I obviously needed a new approach.

I have significant spinal disease. Unfortunately the pain finally got to be too much for me. I was rolling about in bed in tears, moaning in pain, unable to sleep for weeks without heavy sedation. Not even my beloved heating pad was doing its job very well. I couldn’t stand, sit, walk or even lay flat without excruciating pain. Lucky me, I had daily Migraines to top it all off. My doctors couldn’t help me anymore and prescribed the dreaded opiates. I begged for options, but there were none.

None.

Between the Migraines and the nerve pain I experienced simultaneously, I was a mess. When it got out of control, I would end up sitting in the bathtub with hot water from the shower pounding on me, sobbing as I tried to distract myself back into control over my reaction to what I was feeling. I have always believed that the pain is often beyond my direct control, but how I react to it is. So, I try to control what I can.

I ended up alone, stuck in the tub, unable to get out by myself, and just praying for the sedatives I’d taken to hit me so I would finally attain unconsciousness.

I finally broke down and agreed to see a pain management specialist, but my doctors and I agreed that we would try to get me into a holding pattern with medications and whatever else I needed, just to get me through the anniversary trip we’d planned for the last two years. I would see pain management after our trip. I counted the days.

The day came. I was super nervous because I’ve had a problem with doctors not understanding Migraine, medication overuse headache, and how all my complicated comorbid conditions fit together. I’ve endured overblown promises of a cure, de-moralization, frustration and anger, to name a few things. Despite the fact I’d had a great experience with this doctor years before for occipital nerve blocks and a blood patch after a lumbar puncture, I really didn’t know what to expect.

She suggested and performed, a caudal epidural injection that day to try to give me a break from what was happening to me, and as an attempt to get things under control at least to the point I could try to get off the dreaded opiates.

The epidural was fabulous, and I’ll write about it later. However the thing I’m looking forward to the most, is the physical therapy she agreed to help me with.

I spent over ten years as a competitive swimmer. I love the water. However, due to my autoimmune issues, I haven’t hit the water in years unless it was a shower or a bath tub. This summer I did purchase a triathlon wetsuit so I could swim during vacation, and did manage one hour in the pool – one hour of decreased pain and increased ability to move. So I was eager to try aqua therapy.

My first appointment for evaluation by the therapist is this afternoon. Her name is Marci and I am very excited to talk with her. I have known for a long time that my core has been seriously weakened by my inability to move and exercise as I need. I know I will be very limited in what I can do, but I am dedicating whatever it takes at this point to get better.

The fact is, if this doesn’t work, there is little left for me. I’m not willing to accept that.

So, here I go… stepping off the edge of the pool and into scary unknown waters…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Elaine Gross
    6 years ago

    Thank you Ellen. Even through all your suffering you’re always giving back. I have found Physical Therapy to have really turned things around for me. I too have severe arthritis in my neck, along with dystonia. The physical therapy last so long, but they gave me exercises to do at home every day. It has changed my life. I’ve gone from 15+ migraines a month to less than 5, and probably most times about once or twice a month. For me it seems like a miracle. I still get Botox injections every 3 months, and take 50mgs of Topomax a day, but now my whole outlook has changed. I exercise at least 3 times a week. I’ve always loved weight lifting, and have started doing that again, and it’s made me feel great. It feels like a miracle.

    I pray you keep experiencing good results and start to feel better. You deserve it! You’ve done so much to help others. Good thoughts and prayers for you Ellen.

    Elaine

  • Miryenne
    6 years ago

    Oh Ellen – You’re stories resonate so strongly with mine. I especially can relate to those bathtub trips – just to let the water run over you and hoping for salvation. I truly hope the physical therapy helps you! We’re all hoping this helps you. Good luck!

  • Ann B
    6 years ago

    Oh, Ellen, I hope this helps you so much! I was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis with bone spurs of the spine this spring, and it really is too much with the migraine disease. I am not chronic yet-only 11 migraines last month-but with the post-drome days and the days I wake up with a heavy head, my truly pain-free days are few and far between. I woke up with a clear head today, which happens only a few times a month, but have increased back pain. Sleeping flat on my back is better for the headaches, but makes my back hurt worse. I am at the point that I dread going to bed at night. My stomach can’t tolerate NSAIDS, the first choice for arthritis. At least I don’t have to worry about MOH from those. And I don’t like the way narcotics make me feel, either, and save those for just the very worst days. The best thing for arthritis, I’ve read, is to keep moving (which is hard on migraine days). Moving in warm water sounds wonderful! Wish there was such a place in our little town.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    Ann B – Oh Dear, I’m so sorry it seems like we’re in similar situations. I do wish there were a way for you to try aqua therapy. We drive about 1 hr each way for treatments, but I am desperate for help and relief. If this is what I have to do, then so be it. There are many places that offer aqua therapy,so it might be worth at least approaching your doctor about it. There might even be a place for it nearby!

    ~Ellen

  • CG
    6 years ago

    I am a chronic daily headache with migraine sufferer for over 40 years. For the past ten years or so I have been using a warm therapy pool as my primary site for exercise. I was referred there by my headache doctor and had PT in the pool. Since then, through their maintenance program, I have been able to access the pool as my head and life, as well as their schedule, permit. Nothing has eliminated my migraine problem, but the warm therapy pool has significantly helped me keep going.

    Sometimes, I get there three times a week. Sometimes, months go by without a visit due to head pain or life events. I always go back! It is my lifesaver. My physical therapist once told me she could see my body relax as I submerged in the pool! Don’t underestimate the workout you can get in the pool, by the way. The PTs can show you studies on its effectiveness.

    Good luck in your exploration of this mighty resource! PS I guarantee you will make new friends there and find laughter, as well.

  • CG
    6 years ago

    To clarify, the laughter and friends came later while in the maintenance program. Hope it’s going well.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    CG – Laughter is powerful all by itself!

    I am alone in the pool for my therapy, but the conversation is always good as we work 😉

    ~Ellen

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi Ellen,

    I really hope this works for you. I tried aqua therapy before I had my cervical fusion in 2004. It did nothing for my head pain and in fact some sessions it exacerbated it. But, it did help with my overall fitness.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

    Nancy

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    My water therapist’s name is Shelley, and she’s great so far. To watch me in action in the water is about like watching paint dry, but after the first workout, the next day I could tell I’d done something. It was a good kind of hurt, not like the bad kind of hurt I have on a daily, moment to moment basis. It felt like I had gently stretched things and it was the kind of pain you get when you’ve worked out just a little harder one day than the next. That was GOOD news.

    Today was another session, and I worked myself a little harder. It might come back to be a problem – time will tell. She’s added a couple new exercises to the batch too, so we’ll see how I feel in the next two days.

    All in all, so far I am VERY optimistic this will help at least some of my pain and strength issues. Many of you will understand how much ANY kind of progress means to us when we start to feel hopeless. Progress means we aren’t hopeless after-all, and I for one will take it!

    ~Ellen

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    famattjr – I hope you can get with your doctor asap about your suspicion of MOH. As you know, this can quickly become a serious situation, and he longer it’s present, the more difficult it is to correct.

    Hang in there, and thank you so much for all your encouragement!

    ~Ellen

  • famattjr
    6 years ago

    Good luck, Ellen. I had 4 times a week PT all through January and February with no results. I had neck spasms aggravating a pre-existing migraine problem. Finally I went to a pain mgmt dr who felt I had facet disease at 2 levels and went on to have radio frequency ablation (aka rhizotomy) to destroy the medial pain-producing nerves at the 2 cervical levels. Helped the neck pain but back to getting daily migraines. I think I’m overusing Excedrin & Imitrex & Flexeril getting into rebound headaches plus bloodwork has revealed some bad readings on my kidneys, maybe a result of too many pain meds. Going to see my dr tomorrow, he has suggested botox in the past. It helps that he is a migraine sufferer.Continuing to do my PT stretches at home, you can’t let the neck stiffness & arthritis contribute to the headaches. My daily routing is wake up early with a bad one, take an imitrex and excedrine then lie down with my head on an ice pack, I feel ice helps much more than heat on the head. I also have a shiatsu neck massager that helps the neck knots. But good luck.

  • taralane
    6 years ago

    I am now going to try swimming as well to see if that will help get me out of the inert position I have been in for the past several years. As my pain has gotten worse, my exercise has gotten less and less, and like you I am a shadow of my former self. Your pain has more complications than mine, but I am mostly out of meds that will work for any of my pain now, so trying to manage the pain I have is one of my only options until something better comes along. Like you I will take any kind of progress, and I also long for the “good hurt” of exercise rather than the daily “bad hurt” I live with.

    Kudos to you Ellen for getting through all you have and thanks for sharing your story. I am sending a heap of prayers your way – I hope this will be a lasting forward step for you!

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    Tons of prayers and goodwill your way :).

  • body
    6 years ago

    Very inspirational!!!
    My heart goes out to you.
    Sending tons of positive energy your way and prayers for success :).

  • caradrouin
    6 years ago

    Oh, I feel for you! I hope your PT Marci is as good as my PT Marcie. Marci keeps me going. Sadly, she was in an auto accident and broke her femur in two places. I am seeing Daisy now, who is less experienced, but still good. Please get better!

  • Jill Bomer DeTavernier
    6 years ago

    Hope that all starts to move the direction it should for you!! I know water sure helped me when I was unable to move..Best wishes!

  • Cindy
    6 years ago

    My Neurologist who is the Medical director of the Neurology and pain clinic I go to, who is also a certified Migraine specialist. He told me a year ago (after 8 years of treatment), that he had “nothing else for you in my bag of tricks.” I am now seen by the PA who works under him and also specializes in Migraines. She said he had never fired a patient before, especially one so compliant. I sincerely hope tjis works for you. I do Not have an autoimmune disease just Chronic Migraines. I will pray you get relief from both.

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