Thursday, March 17, 2011

Seek Alternatives

Today was a good day, if I overlook the fact that I had to start it by dishing out some tough love to my oldest daughter, and ended it with a garage full of rocks, grass and dirt, courtesy of my younger two.

But, in-between, I enjoyed a challenging swim class, a long hike on a beautiful day and, probably best of all, a massage. Yes, a massage.

I am a huge believer in the healing properties of massage therapy, which, among many benefits, increases circulation and joint flexibility, improves the body's immune system, relaxes overused muscles, releases endorphins and reduces stress. I'm all for any practice that supports and encourages healthy living and decreases the need for medication, from practicing yoga, to eating organic foods.

For as long as I can remember, I have always avoided medications, including seemingly harmless over-the-counter varieties such as Advil and Tylenol. Unfortunately, when I entered my twenties, I had my first migraine and I'd never experienced anything like it. Imagine having a headache so bad that it makes you vomit, creates blind spots in your vision and even the tiniest noise or ray of sunlight is like a lightning bolt through your brain. My mother and both of my grandmothers had migraines, so I definitely had the genetic predisposition for them. My husband's mother and grandmother also had them so I fear that my daughters are doomed!

Thankfully, migraines were rare for me until I hit my mid-30s, at which point they became chronic. Suddenly I was having them monthly, then bi-weekly, then weekly, until I was having several each week. They were completely disruptive and debilitating, and when one hit, I was unable to care for my young children. I couldn't continue to live like that so I consulted a doctor and even had an MRI to rule out the possibility of a more serious condition. The MRI was negative and over a period of time, my doctor and I were unable to pinpoint a consistent trigger. For many migraine sufferers, headaches can be triggered by any number of things, from sunlight and glare, to hormone fluctuations, changes in the weather and barometric pressure, and even foods such as chocolate, wine and coffee.

My doctor armed me with some very powerful drugs to take at the onset of a migraine to try and halt its progression, but ultimately he recommended daily/lifelong meds--anti-seizure drugs!--as a preventative measure. Other drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat migraines include beta-and-calcium channel-blockers used for high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, anti-depressants, antihistamines that influence serotonin activity, and even Botox to relax neck muscles, all of which are serious, systemic substances that affect your body's chemistry and have numerous known and unknown side effects.

While I do realize the importance of western medical practices and respect that many lives have been saved through the miracle of modern medicine, surely there is a safer, easier and better way to treat non life-threatening conditions such as migraines; it's called massage therapy. (Botox to relax neck muscles. Really??)

When faced with the option of taking anti-seizure drugs for the rest of my life, I researched alternative methods and decided to try massage therapy, which even my doctor supported. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I found a practitioner who was willing to come to my home and I received weekly treatments for the first month, before reducing my treatments to bi-weekly and then monthly.

Since I started massage therapy several years ago, I can count on one hand the number of migraines I've had, and the only side effect has been that I feel great! (Popping a pill could never offer the same sense of well-being and relaxation.)

Though massage therapy may be the oldest and simplest form of medical care known, it is unfortunately still viewed by many in modern society as a luxury, an indulgent form of pampering, rather than for its healing benefits.

So, before you turn to drugs to treat what ails you, I urge you to research the many alternative and holistic options available.

Resources and suggested reading:

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