SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A breakthrough in migraine treatment could come without medicine or changes in diet, but instead just a massage.
A Northern California physical therapist says he's found something that isn't being done anywhere else that really works, and his patients say their lives have never been better.
Zoe Soane hardly remembers a time when she didn't have debilitating migraines.
"I've had migraines since I was 13, it would be hard to summarize the incapacitating effect of them," she said. "I couldn't look at magazine print, too small, I couldn't look at a computer screen, too bright, the glare off a windshield or something in an instant I would have a migraine."
The simplest things could set her migraines in motion, causing her to become dizzy, nauseous and keep her from her work in publishing, her husband, three children and life in general. She says she was at the end of her rope.
"I was in bed with an episode of spinning, and I thought I'm going to three more appointments and then I'm going to kill myself. And then I caught myself and thought, that's extreme but I thought I was a burden to my husband," she said.
Enter Sheldon Low, a Bay Area physical therapist for the past 35 years.
Soane was referred to Low for a neck issue, but quickly found the treatment could double as a way to give her some migraine relief through a simple head massage.
"It's my theory, and my experience that taking pressure off the scalp nerves, that's taking away the impingement and causative agent of the headaches," he said.
Soane says the treatments were the answer to her prayers.
"I'm actually working into that scar tissue trying to break it down," Low said "It's almost like controlled shearing. If you're peeling an orange and trying to play that game to keep the orange peel together and you're trying to work it around so you're not breaking the peel apart."
Low showed first on a hand to show the pressure that's applied, then on a head.
"Try to find an abnormal lump or bump and if it's sensitive that's even better and actually push in and twist a bit or pull down and go that way, anything that's lumpy is not your skull not bone and not normal," he said.
Low says the lumps aren't normal, and that they start when we're small children and fall.
"Once you hit your head it raises a bruise, the bruise causes scarring and you don't stretch that out. It gets tighter as you get older," he said.
Low's studies have shown that over time, as the scarring can't be stretched, it gets tighter, cranking down on the nerve endings in the scalp and contributing to migraine pain.
"It's all anatomically related to these adhesions—scar tissue adhesions on your scalp," he said.
For Soane and multiple other migraine patients that Low has seen, several massage treatments have led to great relief.
"Initially, he was pressing on my head lightly, and I felt worse and that actually to me was reassuring because I thought if he can make this happen then he's inside the control box," she said.
Now she says the frequency of the migraines has been dramatically reduced.
Doctors usually treat migraines with medication, dietary changes or rest, so we went to the headhache specialists at UC Davis.
Dr. Marc Lenaerts is a fellow of the American Headache Society and runs the headache clinic at UC Davis Medical Center. He believes the treatment could work.
"Freeing inflammatory fluids, and humors and freeing the adhesions between the tissues is a very important point and worthwhile looking into," he said.
And with more than 38 million migraine sufferers in the United States looking for relief, why hasn't something like this been discovered before?
"Probably not enough people practicing and doing it on a regular basis," he said.
But Lenaerts also believes while there may not be enough scientific evidence now that says it could cure migraines, he's not ruling anything out in the future.
"Conclusion is we need more scientific evidence, but it's encouraging and worthwhile going further," he said.
Low hopes to publish a book and release a how-to video in hopes that others can master the technique and bring relief to their patients as well.
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