Migraines – Get to Know Your Triggers


It’s a common misconception that all physiotherapists can provide is massage and exercises. And while for some conditions these elements will be incorporated, for migraines it certainly is more complex than that.

Due to the nature of migraines, there are a few variables to consider and manage if you want to control them in the long term.

On the whole, migraines result in an excessive stimulus on the nerve tissue of the brain and nervous system. When the stimulus becomes too much the brain produces a pain message as a form of protection. So, to get in control of your migraine, let’s talk about the different triggers and see which one might be adding to your migraine. These inputs can be categorised to make it easier to understand.

  1. Visual

The eyes turn light radiation into electrical impulses to the brain via the optic nerve. Long periods of time with intense light stimulating the optic nerve is a common trigger to migraine. Computer use, phones, TV, shopping centres and time out in the sun are all examples. Often, wearing glasses, limiting screen time or dimming the light in the room can reduce the likelihood of triggering your migraine.

  1. Auditory

Following the same principles of the eyes, periods of over stimulation of the cochlear nerve can be a trigger. Think, screaming kids in the house, loud movies/TV, having music too loud in the car. Reducing the input, reduces the risk.

  1. Chemical

This a broad category that involves a many of the “big hitters” when it comes to triggering migraines. Hormone changes are a common trigger, with many sufferers getting worse headaches in time with their menstrual cycles. Talking with you GP about your options to assist in regulating the levels of hormones in your system can be of benefit.

In addition, dietary factors have a chemical response on our nervous system. Things like MSG, red wine, cheese, chocolate, soy sauce, and processed meats have been reported as common triggers.

Food that has been fermented or stored have higher levels of tyramine, a substance created from the breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyramine may cause blood vessels to constrict then expand, and it may be a trigger for some migraine headaches. Some neurologists advise limiting fermented or aged foods, such as cheese, soy sauce, pickles, and pepperoni.

Dehydration… need we say more. There is no good to come from regularly under-hydrating your body.

  1. Stress and mechanical factors

Stress is an interesting variable as it is unavoidable in life. It has an effect by producing higher levels of cortisol in our system, which has been shown to detrimental to our cells. Cortisol also causes our muscle to contract, creating mechanical pressure on our muscles, joints and nerves. There are many resources that can aid this, though often just being aware that this is a trigger can allow you to take action.

  1. Sleep patterns

As a parent of two toddlers, I now fully understand the effects of broken and limited sleep. Sleep provides our nervous system an opportunity to reset and reorganise its connections. Most of our tissue repair occurs during sleep. So, aiming for long periods of unbroken sleep can reduce the likelihood that this is contributing to your migraine.


If you are unsure what your triggers are, starting a migraine diary can be a helpful tool. Writing down the time and activities at or before your migraine can allow you to form patterns and better understand what brings yours on. And remember, please get in touch with your doctor for all new, severe or unusual headaches or migraines.