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MIGRAINE HEADACHE – A SEVERE GAMING HEADACHE

If you made it here from the complete gaming headache guide – it is likely you are dealing with a migraine type headache. If you have just stumbled upon this page – welcome (to make sure you are in the right place -> check out the main headache page and find out which headache you have)! This post will teach you everything about migraines in gaming. Out of the three most common headaches, this is often the least likely type to occur amongst gamers. Just as a disclaimer – I am not a PHYSICIAN (MEDICAL DOCTOR), I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy, if you read through the symptoms below and feel as though you may have a migraine please go see a doctor for medical treatment. 

WHAT CAUSES THIS GAMING HEADACHE & WHAT WILL YOU FEEL? MIGRAINE GAMING HEADACHE

There has been quite a debate about the diagnosis of migraines over the years and even now there is still lack of clarity as to the exact causes of this type of headache. What we know now is the migraine and tension type headache may be on the same spectrum with the migraine on the higher end of that spectrum (more severe). For those who want to know a little more about the underlying physiology causing this type of headache – read the following section! If not, just skip ahead to learn more about triggers and major causes.

1HPForScience: While it has been identified there is definitely a genetic basis for those who are vulnerable to this type of headache – the neuroanatomic structures which have been identified to cause the “aura” symptoms associated with the headaches are Trigeminal Cervical Afferent Neurons: nerves in your brainstem which often become oversensitized. There are various inputs which can affect these nerves – whether it be actual compressive or tissue stress on the nerves or pain-system adaptations affecting the physiology of the nerve pathway itself. This increased sensitivity is represented by the headache and “nerve” symptoms (nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity)

Credit to Psychscene: Learn more about the pathophysiology through the link

Ok for those that have no idea what that means let’s get get into the causes we can identify. In the end – it is my belief it has to deal with triggers in the form of: STRESS

Stress can mean more than the mental load you might feel dealing with certain situations. It can be physical too, affecting your muscles and joints around your body during movements and prolonged postures (what I talk about all the time). Both mental and physical stress can lead to changes in our brain, specifically in the nerves along our brainstem. As we are exposed to these stressors, it causes these nerves to become more sensitive. What this means is that it will take less “stress” in both the physical and mental forms to activate these nerves which our brains will perceive as pain or the “headache symptoms” 

If that is still confusing for you – let me try to simplify it with an example

  1. Physical Stress of Sitting for too long with poor posture
  2. Nerves become more sensitive to the “physical stress of sitting”
  3. Poor posture causes headaches more easily

This is of course an oversimplified example. But the bottom line is this: Repeated stress or a major stressful event can cause our nerves to become sensitized.

So nerves are the source of the pain and stress is a major cause – let’s explore the causes more deeply

  1. Mental & Physical Stress – As I mentioned both types of stress largely contribute to these types of headaches. The REPEATED exposure to these stressors or triggers are what lead to this type of headache to be chronic. Major events of stress can also be a cause for the episodic type of tension headaches. How we deal with stressful situations, anxiety and even conditions like depression all have a role in these type of headaches. But just as I mentioned it can be physical too which means we have to pay attention to our…
  2. Posture & Environment – How we sit influences how much stress is placed on the muscles and joints around our neck over time. Poor posture will increase the likelihood the muscles and joints will become irritated and eventually cause the headache. In addition to posture we do want to consider lighting, specifically blue light. I’m sure many of us have been told how blue light can impact our eyes negatively. The light emitted from our monitors can overstimulate certain nerve pathways from our eyes to the brain leading to headaches. 
  3. Mobility of the muscles and joints at our neck – The more stiff or tight the muscles are surrounding our neck, the more compressive stress develops. This leads to stiffness in our joints which reduces its ability to tolerate repeated stress. 
  4. Strength and coordination of muscles in the neck. A group of muscles deep in our neck are important in ensuring can handle long periods of gaming without stress in our joints. 

Another way to look at stress is to also identify triggers which can affect these nerve pathways. I list some of the common ones here

  1. Flashing Lights
  2. Anxiety and Emotional Stress
  3. Lack of Food or Sleep
  4. Hormonal Changes
  5. Headache Foods 

Don’t worry we will be going through what to do about these causes in the next section but first…

What are you going to feel?

With this type of headache – you might feel the following 

  1. Migraine Aura – nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity which can persist up to an hour. This is the classic symptom associated with migraines
  2. A throbbing headache on only one side of your head which can last up to three days.  
  3. Neck pain often signals the beginning of the migraine
  4. Headache is moderate to severe
  5. Pain seems to worsen with physical activity

By now we should be now be more and more confident you are dealing with a migraine type headache. While there are likely things we can address when it comes to physical impairments and stress management – if you present with a migraine type-headache it is important you seek out a physician for proper evaluation and treatment. Medicine intervention is helpful in symptom management as you identify and manage your triggers. With that being said – it is absolutely helpful to go through the 1HP step by step approach to manage headaches in gaming.

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