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What happens in the brain and what helps

Pain is something that protects us from further damaging ourselves. When we feel pain our body is signaling us to stop, slow down, or it is asking for attention. If our body works the way it's meant to function, then we will be able to perceive pain.

The brain does not have pain receptors, however we can localise pain in our head; and we call this headache.

The worst type of headache is the migraine. It is very debilitating and very often can impact the way we function.
Women are twice as likely to get a migraine than men (according to NICE, in the UK migraines affects 5–25% of women and 2–10% of men). 9 out of 10 people cannot function well during an episode and have to take some time out (according to

There are four stages of migraine headache, although we might not experience all of them every time.

Podrome - Signs that a migraine is about to happen. E.g. constipation, depression, hyperactivity, irritability and neck stiffness.

Aura - Being sensitive to lights and other visual disturbances

Headache - Pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head.

This can also induce nausea and vomiting, lightheartedness and blurred vision

Postdrome - After the episode, we can feel tired and lethargic.

What causes a migraine?

Recent studies show how migraines are caused by a primary neuronal dysfunction (Chandler, 2015). This dysfunction produces the effects and changes typical of the migraine. Sicne the migraine is a vascular headache, the pain we feel during an episode is connected to how the blood vessels are innervated in the brain (Brennan & Charles, 2010).

What helps?
- Rest in a quiet and dark room

- Apply a cold or hot compress. Ice on your forehead can have a numbing effect, which can help to relax

- Smelling lavender helps a great deal

- Mindfulness meditation can help relieve the stress

- Staying hydrated (sometimes migraines are caused by dehydration!)
- Massage your temples

- Get some caffeine or some ginger tea

- Try not to chew and relax your jaw

Everyone will have a slightly different experience of migraines. What works for you and what you find helpful might not work on others, so it's important that you develop specific strategies.

References and links


2. NICE - National Institute for Clinical Excellence

3. Chandler, C. (2015). Psychobiology. Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons

4. Brennan, K & Charles, A. (2010). ‘An Update on the Blood Vessel in Migraine’, in: Neurology. 23(3):266–274, 2010.