Tag Archives: neurological disorders

This Is Your Brain on Migraine

Impacting not just the head but the entire body, migraine is the most common neurological disorder, affecting 10-15% of the adult population. For comparison, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder (after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease). Unfortunately, few people completely understand the mechanism of migraine. Even doctors, neurologists, and scientists who specialize in migraine research do not necessarily understand everything about this disorder, if only because few of them have ever suffered its agonizing pain.

To make the process of migraine clearer for everyone, let’s imagine your body as a house run entirely by electricity. When the power supply works well and is uninterrupted, you have all the modern conveniences: light, heat, air-conditioning, refrigeration, computers, and Internet. The brain’s 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) are your body’s power system: its wiring and its electricity. Neurons enable you to breathe, move, and think. The neurons in the brain’s outermost layer — the cortex — process information from the senses, regulate body temperature, initiate movement, and enable such complex processes as memory, attention, speech, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. Electrical power makes your house and your body run more efficiently.

Now, imagine your house during an electrical brownout. Too little voltage, as in a dip, and lights noticeably dim, fans slow, and electronic devices sound a warning. Too much voltage, as in a surge, and appliances and electronics can be damaged. This is your brain during an aura. Cortical neurons fire abnormally, in dips and surges, causing symptoms which can include visual disturbances, nausea, clumsiness, or vertigo. Strange tastes, unusual smells, rapid fluctuations in body temperature, and speech difficulties are relatively common. The irregularities in your brain’s electrical system during an aura’s brownout can cause insomnia, depression, irritability, anxiety, brain-fog, and fatigue.

Of course, if you aren’t home during an electrical brownout, or if you’re asleep during an aura, you won’t notice the electrical havoc. Only 20-25% of those with migraines report aura, though some researchers suspect that migraine sufferers may not always notice aura symptoms or associate them with subsequent head pain. Some people with migraine may not associate fleeting irritability, occasional insomnia, or mild depression with an aura because, just as electrical brownouts are not always followed by a complete power outage, auras are not always followed by the crippling pain of a migraine.

Now, imagine your house during a complete power outage. Though the house is still standing, nothing in it that depends on electricity will work. That means no light, no washers and dryers, no television or computers. Without electricity, almost all modern conveniences are unavailable or inoperable. This is your brain on migraine. Instead of firing abnormally, in dips and surges, the cortical neurons across the brain begin to shut down completely. In a wave called Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD), the neurons in the brain’s cortex — the nerve cells that process sensory input, control movement, and enable both speech and thinking — go into “electrical silence” and don’t fire at all. It’s a power outage in your brain.

Why is this neural blackout in the brain so painful? Research indicates that migraine pain is likely due to inflammation of the trigeminal nerve — the largest nerve in the head — responsible for motor control, touch sensation, and pain perception in the scalp, face, eyes, nose, sinuses, cheeks, jaw, teeth, and gums. This inflammation of the trigeminal nerve appears to be directly triggered by the brain’s electrical blackout during Cortical Spreading Depression. When deliberately induced in the brain of a rat, a CSD neural blackout activated the pain-transmitting trigeminal nerve system in the meninges: the sensitive membranes covering the brain. Trigeminal nerve pain, as anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows, is excruciating and debilitating.

Usually, after a blackout in a residential area, electrical power is restored, and life in your home returns to normal. Since people rarely die during power outages, they are usually not life-threatening. You don’t suffer physical pain during a power outage either, so it’s merely an inconvenience. This is where the analogy ends.

People with migraine suffer incapacitating pain during CSD’s neural blackout. Even after a migraine, when the neurons start firing relatively normally again, it’s highly probable that another wave of CSD and its associated pain will strike. Despite taking medication, effecting lifestyle changes, and avoiding as many triggers as possible, people with migraine cannot entirely eliminate the auras or the pain. Unlike the electrical system of a house, which can be upgraded to reduce brownouts and power outages, our brains cannot be upgraded to reduce abnormal neuron-firing, Cortical Spreading Depression, or CSD-triggered migraine pain.

There is some good news, however. In 2017, an international team of researchers discovered a “genetic particularity” that is more common in those who have migraine, with or without aura. This is the “first irrefutable genetic link” regarding the most frequent forms of migraine. Perhaps, one day soon, researchers will be able to determine ways to adjust and regulate the brain’s complex electrical system, reducing or even eliminating the neural brownouts that are thought to cause aura, as well as the CSD neural blackouts that trigger the incapacitating pain of migraines.

Related Posts

see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page

[Illustration of trigeminal nerve branches credit:
Trigeminal Nerve Branches, by John Charles Boileu Grant,
An Atlas of Anatomy, by Regions, 1962. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia]
(A version of this article was originally published on MigraineMantras.)

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Filed under chronic pain, hemiplegic migraines, migraine, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines

SurfCity Apps: The Best Free Self-Hypnosis Meditation Apps for Migraine and Chronic Pain Relief

If you’re not familiar with self-hypnosis, let me assure you that it is nothing like what’s shown in horror films. No matter how skilled the therapist, meditation leader, or professional hypnotist, hypnosis meditations cannot make you do anything you do not wish to. I’ve heard of self-hypnosis for many things — weight loss, quitting smoking, reducing anxiety — and I’ve used self-hypnosis CDs for increasing creativity and maintaining an exercise program. It wasn’t until the advent of smartphones, however, that I found self-hypnosis meditations which actually reduced my chronic migraine pain. Two of the finest self-hypnosis meditation apps for pain relief which I use regularly are Migraine & Headache Relief  and Chronic Pain Relief, both by Surf City Apps. These two apps are the best I’ve found for reducing chronic pain.

Founded in 2012, Surf City Apps produces professionally scripted hypnosis apps with professional background audio. Each script is read by a certified clinical hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy instructor; the same person narrates both the Migraine Relief and the Chronic Pain Relief meditations: I find her voice and delivery calming and relaxing. I often fall asleep when listening to these meditations, but even when I cannot sleep because of insomnia, either as a symptom of the migraine itself or from its accompanying pain, I play these apps on a low volume continuously, and they help significantly reduce the pain level.

The meditations in these apps are not hidden by music, are clearly audible, and the free versions contain the exact same narration as the Pro versions. That means you can listen to the free versions and hear absolutely everything that is said in the paid versions. Since you can listen to the entire self-hypnosis narration-free, I advise you to listen to both Migraine Relief and Chronic Pain Relief as long as you want to determine which best helps reduce your pain. These are only a few differences between the free and the paid versions of these apps, and none of those differences concerns the actual content of the self-hypnosis meditation itself.

*Please note that because these are self-hypnosis meditations which may make you fall asleep, you should never listen to these apps while driving or operating dangerous machinery.*

Migraine & Headache Relief
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation
by Surf City Apps

After guiding your through some imagery and breathing exercises to induce relaxation, the Migraine & Headache Relief self-hypnosis meditation tells you to image the pain in your head as a color, which you choose yourself. Then, you image a faucet at your ear closest to the pain, and the meditation guides you through turning on the faucet and letting the pain drain safely out through the faucet. You are then given some suggestions for safely “disposing” of the pain and encouraged to replace the now-empty space previously occupied by the pain with the color you image from another body part that does not give you pain.

Download Migraine & Headache Relief free from Surf City Apps for iOS or Android devices, from Amazon for Kindle, from the App Store for iOS devices, or from GooglePlay for Android devices. Though I’ve never used Migraine & Headache Relief on an ordinary headache, I always use it during a migraine attack. It significantly reduces the pain, especially when I combine it with Surf City Apps’ Chronic Pain Relief.

Chronic Pain Relief
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation
by Surf City Apps

After guiding your through some imagery and breathing exercises to encourage relaxation, the Chronic Pain Relief self-hypnosis meditation instructs you to image a pain-relieving liquid, which acts like novocaine, coming from a faucet. You are instructed to determine the color, viscosity, and temperature of the liquid. You are guided through the steps of placing your hand under the running faucet and feeling the numbness and relief caused by the liquid. You are then told to put your hand on any part of your body that is in pain. You image that liquid penetrating all the tissues of your body in order to relieve pain and promote healing. Afterward, you image the liquid returning to your hand so that you can return it to the basin below the faucet where you “release” it. If you experience pain in large areas of your body, you are guided through imagery where you bathe or shower in the pain-relieving liquid and are thereby comforted.

Download Chronic Pain Relief free from Surf City Apps for iOS or Android devices, from Amazon for Kindle, from the App Store for iOS devices, and from GooglePlay for Android devices. The Chronic Pain app relieves a great deal of chronic pain, and it definitely helps with the severe pain of migraine attacks as well, which is why I alternate the apps when I’m in severe pain.

SurfCity App Controls

The controls are identical in all versions (free and paid, across all app topics) of the Surf City apps and are very easy to use. The settings are relatively self-explanatory, though some brief descriptions are sometimes included, as in the definition of what Hypnotic Booster does.

 

The Differences Between the Free and Pro App
There are ads in the free version as well as limitations to the app controls. The Pro (paid) version costs a one-time fee ($1.99-3.99, depending on the particular app), and the paid version allows you to turn off the audio instructions (which help you relax your body but do not specifically have anything to do with relieving pain) at the beginning of the narration, to disable Awaken at End (allowing you to stay asleep if you are using it at night and happen to fall asleep), and to repeat the narration 1-3 times or to loop it so it continues until you shut the app down. These controls alone are certainly worth the money if you want to play the narration all night long or during a migraine attack to keep the pain level down. The paid version also includes a variety of background sounds, (rain, water on the beach, etc) and lets you continue listening to your background of choice after the meditation narration ends by delaying the ending of the app’s shut-off. You can choose from 5, 10, 20, or 30-minute delays, or hourly delays from 1-8 hours: during these delays, the self-hypnosis meditation is not playing but the soothing background sounds are, and this might be helpful for promoting sleep and rest during a migraine attack or pain flare-up).

Making Migraine and Chronic Pain Relief
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation Playlists

If you have the Pro (paid) versions of either of these apps, you can Loop them so that they play all night long, although you can only play one meditation at a time. On iOS devices, at least, these two pain relief apps are also available as MP3 versions so you can make playlists. That way you can queue up two different versions and alternate them all night long. Once you’ve downloaded one of the free apps, go to More at the bottom, then scroll past the Pro versions of the self-hypnosis apps down to Our Apps in MP3 Format.

This will then open in the iTunes Store, where you can purchase the MP3 version of what you’re already listening to. For $2.99-4.99 you can buy an “album” which will have the self-hypnosis meditation session in two versions: + Awake instructs you to wake up after listening to the session, the other does not. Both Awake and Sleep versions have the same background music.

The album includes both versions of the self-hypnosis: the daytime, when you are instructed to awaken at the end of the meditation, and the nighttime, where you are not instructed to awaken. When you make a daytime playlist, make sure you put the + Awake versions in the same playlist; for nighttime or nap listening, put the Sleep versions (the ones without + Awake) in the same playlist.

I have the Migraine Relief and the Chronic Pain Relief sleep versions in one playlist, alternating one with the other until I have about 10 hours of playing time, to make sure I don’t get woken up by the hypnosis-meditation shutting off. The day version of this playlist, which alternates Migraine Relief + Awaken with Chronic Pain Relief + Awaken, is only about 5 or 6 hours long, but that’s because I’m awake already and playing it at a very low volume so that I hear it subliminally. Once you’ve listened to the session a few times, you don’t have to actively concentrate on the meditation-hypnosis for it to reduce your pain.

Note: These are self-hypnosis meditations, even in their MP3 versions, and they can make you fall asleep, so don’t listen to these while driving or operating dangerous machinery.

The only thing I don’t like about the MP3 versions of Surf City Apps is that both the Migraine Relief and Chronic Pain Relief have the same, rather repetitive music in the background. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes when the pain is really severe, it makes me feel worse: that’s when I turn off the playlist and switch to the app itself; then I listen to one or the other (you can play only than one app at a time), but since I bought the Pro version, I can loop the self-hypnosis meditation to play continuously until I shut it off.

You can check out all Surf City’s free apps on its website. Their apps have been downloaded over 5 million times and average 4+ stars out of 5 for these particular apps. In addition to in-app Support –under Interact > Feedback and Support, where you can read FAQs or send them a message — Surf City is on Twitter and Facebook: they are very responsive to customer questions.

These pain relief self-hypnosis meditation apps may not take away your migraine or other chronic pain completely, but they do significantly reduce pain for most of their listeners. Even better, since the full meditation is available on the free versions of their apps, you can see which you prefer or simply listen to them both. Either way, you’re bound to feel some relief.

If you have any questions about these apps, or can provide information about these apps on Android devices, you can reach me on Twitter at Alexandria_SZ. If your question won’t fit in a tweet, you can contact me by email.

Related Posts

For more of my migraine articles,
see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page.

(A slightly different version of this post was
originally published on MigraineMantras.)

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Filed under App Review, chronic pain, Chronic Pain Treatment, healing, health, Health and Wellness, hemiplegic migraines, Meditation and MIndfulness, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Review, Self-Hypnosis Apps, Self-Hypnosis Meditation Apps, SurfCity Apps