Basilar Migraines: Uncommon & Frightening

Basilar migraines are less common than other migraines but are more frightening.

Basilar migraines, so called because they involve the basilar artery, are not nearly as common as other migraines.  However, the symptoms are more frightening.  They may manifest as  dizziness, double vision, slurred speech, hearing difficulty, tingling of the body, temporary loss of vision, loss of balance, and confusion, as well as loss of consciousness.

Sufferers of basilar migraines also experience the more commonly known symptoms, such as mild to severe head pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and cold hands and feet.  Aura may be part of the symptom picture as well.

The cause of basilar migraines is unknown.

However, the suspected cause of basilar migraines is of vascular origin, namely the basilar artery. Let’s look at the anatomical structures potentially involved in the etiology of basilar migraines.  These are the muscles of the posterior neck, the vertebral arteries, the basilar artery, the brain stem, and the neck vertebrae, as well as the cranial bones (head bones).

The head pain associated with basilar migraines can be explained by the shifting and locking up of the head bones (cranial bones) along the cranial sutures as the neck muscles tense up and shorten.  These neck muscles tense up when they are stressed (poor posture held for a long time), with injury, and even with local infections and inflammation.

The brain stem receives its blood supply from the basilar artery.  All the cranial nerves arise from the brain stem. Hence. injury to the brain stem, such as a stroke, trauma to the head, and whiplash injuries, as well as stress positions, such as hyperextension or hyperflexion of the neck, may elicit symptoms of many kinds.

The vertebral arteries arise from the subclavian artery, which itself is a branch of the aorta.  The left and right vertebral arteries join near the base of the head (occiput) to form the basilar artery.  Thus any pressure on the vertebral artery would diminish the blood flow to the basilar artery.  This would result in a decrease in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain stem (medulla and pons).  Too little oxygen and nutrients adversely affects the functioning of the brain stem resulting in numerous symptoms, some of which are the ones listed above associated with basilar migraines.

What could compress the vertebral arteries?

The most common offenders are poor posture while reading, doing computer work, or watching TV.  The neck is being flexed for a long time while working with the lap top on your lap or a surface quite a bit below eye level.  This also occurs when reading a book that’s in your lap (on the bus, in the car, etc).  Conversely, the neck is being extended for long periods of time when working on a desk top computer or watching TV (or DVD, movie in a cinema) that is above eye level.

These head positions, if held for a long time, may compress the vertebral arteries which are threaded through the transverse foramina of the first six neck vertebrae on either side of the neck.

At the level of the first neck vertebra, right below the occiput (back of the head),the vertebral arteries weave through a set of muscles that form the occipital triangle.  They then enter the skull via the foramen magnum, the large opening, which is also the entry way and exit for the spinal cord.  Once inside the skull, the two vertebral arteries join to form the basilar artery.

When the muscles of the occipital triangle shorten (contract) as the neck is extended (when looking up), or become stretched as the neck is flexed (when looking down), these muscles put pressure on the vertebral arteries, potentially reducing the flow of blood, bringing less oxygen and nutrients to the brain stem.

The larger,  more superficial, muscles of the neck, such as the trapezius, the levator scapulae, and the splenius capitis, as well as the posterior scalenes, shorten as well when the neck is extended, or are stretched when the neck is flexed.

Trauma to the neck, or anywhere along the spine, as well as muscle tension, can cause subluxations (misalignment) of one or more neck vertebrae, which may compress or stretch the vertebral arteries, reducing blood flow to the brain stem.  This trauma may be recent or old.

Whether trauma or stress through poor posture, the subluxations and muscle contractions are often held in place for days, weeks, months, or years by the connective tissue, called fascia, which weaves through the muscle tissue, and envelops the muscles, blood vessels, nerves, lymph vessels, meridians (energy pathways), and organs, as well as the bony structures such as the vertebrae, linking them together.

This connective tissue is pliable when the body is healthy.  However, with injury and sustained stress, such as poor posture, it looses this pliability, becoming sticky and stiff, holding everything inside it in a stranglehold.  This results in pain, stiffness, tightness, decreased circulation, and impaired nerve conduction, as well as reduced energy and less resistance to disease, either locally, or systemically.

Craniosacral therapy can help with basilar migraines.

Craniosacral therapy, while exceedingly gentle, is particularly effective at reducing basilar migraines by releasing this stranglehold by helping the body to release the tension in the muscles and the restrictions in the fascia (connective tissue).

Also see how herbs can help alleviate, or eliminate, headaches of all kinds, by addressing muscle tension and circulation to the brain.

Note:  A sudden headache with no history of a previous headache like it may be caused by an aneurysm (bulging of an artery where the arterial wall is thinning; like a tire that’s ready to blow) in the brain and requires immediate medical attention.  Rupture of this aneurysm may result in permanent brain damage, or death.