• Anke Mackenson

How can ‘just’ a migraine cause so much pain?

After suffering from chronic neck pain for many years, I thought it was not possible to get another form of chronic pain. However, the next chronic pain I was to suffer from was migraine. I worked on a busy trading floor at the time with three computer screens in front of me and very little natural light. The days were long and the workload pretty heavy. I started to get more and more headaches and took painkillers on a regular basis to enable me to get through the day. Obviously this was not a lasting solution. I had more and more days off work, but then one day at work my pain was so strong I found myself laying in the medical room waiting for the ambulance to arrive. It was ‘just’ a migraine but the pain was so strong it was unbearable. I was then off work but the attacks would not stop; a few days after I recovered from one attack I would have another one. This went on for about 2 months.

How can ‘just’ a migraine cause so much pain?

With migraines your whole body is affected. I remember I could hardly walk and had no energy to do any normal day-to-day tasks. Lying on the sofa was about all I could do for those three months when the pain was acute. It was a dark and depressed time in my life; a place I never want to return to.

What has helped me in getting better?

I decided to come off the medication. This by itself gave me a bit of control in getting my life back. When I had a bit more energy I started to take walks in the park and go to early morning yoga classes. Slowly I was able to do more activities, but I still had to avoid crowds or any busy environment. Shops with artificial lights were a no-go zone.

What helped me when I was in acute pain:

  • Rest

  • Cooling packs on the forehead

  • Rubbing oil on my forehead

  • Eating fresh food, in particular vegetable and fruits

  • Drinking lots of water

  • Abdominal breathing

  • Acupuncture

  • When the pain is less acute you can look at possible underlying causes of the migraine:

  • Work

Are you happy at work?

Do you have too much work and need to talk to your boss?


Do you spend enough time in nature?

Looking back now it this seems such a simple tip, but for me spending more time in nature was a great healer. Being in nature gave me more time to rest.


I found that eating fresh foods helped me in my healing from my migraine. Particular green apples or fresh fruits in general. Nuts as snacks. Although your body craves anything that is unhealthy after a migraine or when having anxiety, it’s best to try and avoid refined sugars and processed foods.


It is best to avoid alcohol or drink limited amounts. I found that on occasion red wine would initiate a migraine.


As with all chronic pain, exercise is absolutely vital. Going to the gym always clears my head and makes me feel better. Any exercise you enjoy is of course good but if it is outdoors even better.


Through yoga, learning Thai Massage and spending a lot of time in Thailand, I started to meditate. A lot seems to be going on in the head when suffering with migraine so to just stop and breathe can make a big difference when trying to get rid of the clutter and business in the head.

As with any chronic pain, the length and intensity of the pain plays a vital role in recovery. It’s important to learn to trust yourself again and to become your own doctor. I remember when I suffered from migraine as well as chronic neck pain, I noticed, for example, that when the pain returned, I would first panic and get frightened that the ‘evil’ as I used to call it would be back. However, I learned that the pain got less intense each time and the length of the pain period would get shorter. In other words, don’t be too pessimistic if, after a pain free period, your pain returns. It is important to stay positive and not let negativity ruin the healing you have already achieved.

If you are currently experiencing migraine or chronic pain and would like to talk to someone, please do get in touch.

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