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Migraine Relief with Hydrotherapy and Aromatherapy

Migraines are the worst. When you know you're getting a migraine, you know you'll be pretty much useless for the rest of the day. The pain is awful, your thinking is cloudy, and you reach for your pain medication.

Last night, around 6pm, I started to feel "off". I could tell the light and sound sensitivity was starting, I felt nauseous, and that all too familiar headache was approaching. I quickly went through my checklist of my known triggers:

-Perfume/chemical smells
-Food additives/MSG
-Poor Sleep
-Hypoglycemia/skipping meals
-Constipation/digestive upset

Since I have spent years honing my body awareness, I knew that stress/anxiety was triggering today's migraine.

As a chronic migraine sufferer and naturopathic doctor, I have natural action plans on deck that don't involve taking Tylenol, Advil, or Ibuprofen (unless I REALLY REALLY need to).

Step One: Get in a Bath!
Hydrotherapy is one of the easiest and cheapest forms of medicine, and one of my favorite!

Hydrotherapy is the use of hot and cold water for therapeutic purposes. Hydrotherapy works by altering the blood and lymph flow in the body: hot water causes blood vessels to open up and increases blood flow, and cold water causes vessels to constrict, moving the blood away from the cold area.

To use hydrotherapy to help with migraines, I first draw myself a hot bath. I set up a bowl of cold water on the outside of the tub and add a washcloth. I use the cold washcloth on my head and neck to make sure I don't feel that pounding in my head that can start once I get in the hot water. While I'm at it, I set a LARGE glass of cold water next to the bath for me to drink--hydration is key.

Step 2: Add Epsom Salt
The magnesium sulfate in the salt relaxes muscles, gently moves the bowels, and helps with blood flow. I add ~2 cups of Epsom Salts to the hot water and make sure they dissolve. The magnesium in the Epsom Salts is pretty well absorbed--the hot water helps to open up the pores.

Step 3: Add bubbles

This calming bubble bath has lavender and sage essential oils and smells DIVINE! When I'm feeling anxious, this is a must-have addition to my bath. It doesn't have any synthetic fragrance--only a mild calming smell. There are no synthetic chemicals: if it's gentle enough for babies, it's gentle enough for me.

Step 4: Breathe.
While in the bath I focused on regulating my breath through breathing slowly and deeply. This helps to further reduce muscle tension, increase "rest and digest" nervous system to get the bowels moving, and helps to relax mind & body.

Step 5: Be Grateful
I spent 5-10 minutes thinking of the good things in my life that I am thankful for. This practice has helped me to reduce anxiety through helping me to see the good things in my life and stop focusing on the hard things. This can be in the form of prayer or just simply giving thanks!

Step 6: Aromatherapy
Before I got into the bath, I set up my diffuser with an organic lavender essential oil. I put it in the bedroom because I knew I'd be crawling into my bed right after my bath. Essential oil quality is important, so make sure you are using a reputable source! (I like Ancient Ways Botanicals)

Before I got into my bath, I would have rated my migraine at a 8/10 (10 being the worst pain). After 10 minutes into the bath, it was down to a 3/10, and was practically gone by the time I got into bed. A drugless miracle!

Migraine action plans can vary depending on your triggers. I recommend anyone who suffers from headaches and migraines talk to a naturopathic doctor about prevention and plans that fit their needs! Individualized medicine is so important, because triggers can vary, and everyone is different.

If you want more about what will work for you, I would be happy to meet with you to help you figure out the best plan for you. I know how tricky it can be, and I help my patients treat their migraines naturally every day!

Dr. Caitlin Fanning Dr. Caitlin Fanning, ND, is a naturopathic doctor and women’s health specialist at Pacific Coast Integrative Health in Santa Cruz, California. She provides compassionate and comprehensive care to patients of all ages and conditions with a focus on women’s health, hormone health, nutrition, stress management, fertility, and preconception care.

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