Introducing Mark McWilliam - CPD Headache Management Course Leader

My Migraine

How do we pronounce Migraine; ME-GRAINE or MY-GRAINE? It reminds me of the Ella Fitzgerald song “Let’s call the whole thing off” which includes the lyrics “You say Tomayto, I say Tomahto”. No matter how you say it, living with it can be disabling, debilitating, and downright miserable, and you want “to call the whole thing off” as the song title states. MY migraine affected ME for over 14 years from the age of 7 until the age of 22. I would have an attack out of the blue every 2 weeks at the very least. It started with a prodrome of continuous yawning followed by a heightened sense of smell. The smell of the wax on the wooden school desks would make me nauseous. Then came the severe pain behind my left eye and the photophobia. If the attack happened in school, I was often given an aspirin with a handful of stale smarties, which only increased my nausea. As I waited in the school office to be picked up, the bucket by my side displayed the watery yellow bile from the last wave of my nausea. Mostly after that I just wretched in vain. A low groan with each anti-peristalsis was all I could muster.  My mother would then come and pick me up and take me home.

Lying in my bed, the pain behind my left eye throbbed and pulsated, my vision distorted. I remember once when I screamed for my dad to come in as the garish pattern of  my 1970’s orange patchwork curtains took the characteristic of pulsating stones and there hidden behind them I was convinced was a demonic witch! Dad would rush in, half asleep, with a rolled up newspaper in hand. Seeing me in such distress as I pointed to the curtains and screamed ‘get it out’, he would forlornly beat the curtains and settle me back to bed.

This is what Migraine was like for me as I grew up. I was taken to doctors, consultants, given lotions and potions but still the attacks continued. The medical profession guessed at the cause, advising me to avoid cheese, chocolate, and diagnosing me as a ‘sensitive child’. It was only when I went to university that I got some answers. I met a friend who also suffered and they said they had a lot of benefit from treatment to their neck. This was my first experience of manual therapy, and from doing neck exercises to stretch and strengthen my neck my Migraines disappeared.

As a child I had liked to take things apart to see how they work. This was no different with my Migraines. I wanted to understand how my body worked and what caused my headaches. So began my journey into Osteopathy and then on to a Masters in Pain management to understand the What? Why? and How? of how the neck was associated with headaches and, in particular, Migraines. My Master’s dissertation was submitted and won the Welsh Pain Society award in 2011 and the local medical profession started to take my Osteopathic treatment of headaches more seriously. Now I have a neurologist who refers patients to me, a far cry from my own experience in the 1970s.

I attended my first headache course at the BSO [now UCO] as it was known then, given by Clifford Lomax and Richard Katesmark in 2014. Then discussions began about the forming of a group of Osteopaths with a special interest in headaches. It was then without hesitation that I wanted to be involved as a founder member of OPHM. OPHM provides the platform where osteopaths can enhance their knowledge of headaches, keep up to date with the latest news in the treatment of headaches and also to forge ahead the education and research of the Osteopathic management of headaches and migraines. Something I wished had existed for me as a patient all those years ago! I hope that our headache conference will empower osteopaths to navigate the choppy waters of migraine and other debilitating headaches more confidently, and spare future generations the same misery I endured. Our course runs on 14/15 April at the UCO and our energetic teaching team look forward to seeing many of you there.

Back to news