Migraines affect an estimated 39 million Americans, and while they’re commonly misunderstood as just ‘really bad headaches’, migraines can cause nausea and vomiting, problems with balance, photosensitivity, and a myriad of other terrible physical symptoms alongside the usual pressure and pain of a headache. Now, a new remedy for migraines comes from injections of Botox for pain treatment.
While commonly misunderstood, we do know more about how migraines are triggered than ever before.
More than just a single attack, every migraine attack is part of a multistage migraine that begins in a so-called ‘prodrome’ phase in day one, wherein various different symptoms have been shown to indicate an upcoming attack, ranging from seemingly unrelated symptoms such as constipation and increased thirst, to symptoms more common tracked to the head such as increased yawning and a stiff neck.
In some people, the prodrome phase leads to auras, wherein a shimmer appears in various parts of a person’s vision. This shimmer or light may be accompanied by circulation issues in the limbs (pins and needles), slurred speech, and more. Not everyone experiences these symptoms, and they are largely visual.
Then, the attack starts.
A migraine attack can last up to three whole days, and most migraines last almost a week from the onset of prodrome symptoms to the end of any post-attack symptoms. It’s common for sufferers of migraines to feel tired and confused after the attack.
The question then becomes – how can this condition be treated?
Physicians and pain management experts have been prescribing and researching countless different methods for years, and one that shows promise for sufferers of chronic migraine pain is Botox.
Yes, Botox Injections for Migraine Pain
Known scientifically as Onabotuliniumtoxina, this is the same type of toxin that grows on spoiled food and causes botulism, and the same toxin that is used to eliminate wrinkles and make the skin of the face seem smoother.
However, many of the risks associated with the other uses of Botox – such as eye drooping and partial facial paralysis – are not very likely to ever occur in the treatment of migraines, as much less Botox is used to treat these migraines.
The reason that utilizing Botox for pain is effective likely has to do with the fact that it is a neurotoxin.
Botox is used in small and controlled amounts by plastic surgeons to effectively numb the nerves in an area to relax the muscles and smoothen the skin.
In the very same vein, many of the women who got Botox treatments for cosmetic purposes also realized that it seemed to affect their chronic headaches and migraines, paving the way for researchers to discover that Botox can be an effective treatment for chronic migraines if applied properly.
Since 2010, the FDA officially approved Botox for use in the treatment of migraine pain, with sessions involving anywhere from 30 to 40 injections in various points throughout the face, skull, neck, and shoulders. The injections numb the nerves in these points to signals sent from the brain, known for kickstarting a migraine, effectively reducing migraine symptoms more than placebo at very little risk.
Similarly, Botox is also used for several other neurological disorders, from uncontrolled blinking to cerebral palsy.
Although it is a neurotoxin, miniscule amounts can be used to effectively reduce neurological malfunction, and the treatment is calibrated to ensure that successive injections are avoided until the toxin has been completely metabolized and flushed out of the system.
However, Botox is not a wonder treatment. It does not work for everyone, it does not work instantly, and it takes time to work properly. There are also other considerations, such as the pain of the treatment itself, the financial burden, and the overall effectiveness.
Treating, Managing and Preventing Migraines in Patients
Botox for migraine pain has only shown to be effective in cases where patients suffer from debilitating chronic migraines – meaning that in any given month, the patient experiences at least 15 or more migraine days. Cases where patients experience fewer than 15 migraines but continue to have headaches throughout the other remaining days in that half of the month may also find relief through injections of Botox for migraine pain.
However, migraine patients who only experience headaches and migraines on 14 or fewer days per month are unlikely to find any benefit in using Botox as treatment for their pain, and insurance companies most likely will not provide coverage for such treatment.
Furthermore, if your headaches are identified as something other than a migraine-related headache, such as a cluster headache, then the treatment won’t work for you either.
Before undergoing any treatment, the doctor will require that you submit as much information as possible about your history with migraines and treatments, and your family history.
It’s important to take note of anything that might indicate that Botox is not a good idea before beginning treatment. When patients are ready to begin, they are also made aware of any other potential risks.
Common side affects for Botox allergies include:
- Red welts, and more
Concerning the Risks
First and foremost, injecting yourself with Botox for pain treatment can be an agonizing procedure. The experience will depend on your own pain tolerance levels.
Since sessions involve 30 or more injections, the pain can become brutal.
However, given that this treatment is exclusive to people with chronic migraines, it is also possible that the treatment won’t feel worse than a migraine would.
Speaking of which, it’s better to schedule treatment on a day when you aren’t having an attack. This can be difficult, and isn’t necessary for success, but the treatment can temporarily worsen the effects of a migraine due to the pain of the injections.
Neck stiffness, nausea, headaches, and a few other migraine-related symptoms are known to occur immediately after treatment.
Once they pass, it takes up to two weeks for the treatment to take effect. From there, its effectiveness lasts anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks, depending on how rapidly the body metabolizes the toxin.
To prevent mounting resistance, Botox injections are typically repeated no sooner than three months after the previous injection.
Because it is accumulative, treatment may also take as long as three cycles (9 months) to completely reach peak effectiveness.
About the Costs
There’s no denying the fact that Botox treatment for migraine pain can be expensive, and it’s important to see how much you have to end up paying out of pocket after insurance. As high as the upfront costs and upkeep costs may be, consider the potential of having a minimum of 12 extra pain-free days every six months, if not more.
If what you can do within those days, and the pleasure of finally having more time away from these migraines is enough to outweigh the financial costs of the treatment, then it is worth it. If it is not, then you will need to look for other alternatives.