Millions of Americans can’t get out of bed in the morning because of an aching head due to a migraine. While a variety of medications seek to solve the issue, it doesn’t always work. There’s a unconventional treatment option that promises to relieve the pain, and smooth out wrinkles at the same time. Botox is fast-becoming a go-to treatment for migraines and more than a dozen other ailments. Our PSC experts explain why Botox is such a medical ‘work horse’.
By Dawn Tongish
Living in Migraine Pain
Serena Williams calls it, “one of the worst things.” The tennis powerhouse suffers from migraine headaches, triggered by her menstrual cycle. It took five years and the loss of a key tennis tournament to determine what was causing the pain, but Williams finally discovered the truth. Williams is getting relief now, but she’s not alone in her torment. Other well-known celebrities like actor Ben Affleck and Broadway star, Kristin Chenoweth also suffer from migraines. Dealing with the pain, day-to-day can be devastating. “A migraine will take a huge chunk out of someone’s day or week or even life,” says Dr. Kevin Smith. Smith, a plastic surgeon who practices in Charlotte, North Carolina, is optimistic about new breakthroughs in how to deal with the devastating effects of migraine pain.
No More Wrinkles, and No More Pain
It was actually Botox users who discovered the connection between the use of the neuro-toxin and migraine relief. “They were seeing some relief from their headaches after receiving an injection for their wrinkles,” says Smith. The FDA approved the ‘off label’ use of Botox for migraines several years ago. Smith adds that it takes more of the Botox to be effective as a migraine buster. “It takes about 50-75 units, which is about twice the usual aesthetic does.” He says if used properly the patient will find reduced frequency in headaches. “Patients will also experience reduced severity and many insurance companies have started to pay for the procedure.” Some patients may experience pain from injections in the neck, but Smith says the treatment is usually well-tolerated by most and lasts 3-4 months.
Botox – The Work Horse
The treatment of migraines is just the beginning for Botox; it is now being used to treat about a dozen different ailments including excessive sweating, muscle stiffness or spasms, and uncontrolled blinking. About half of the uses are cosmetic, the others are considered therapeutic. Supporters say in some situations the use of Botox can be life-changing.
Dr. Mark Epstein, a plastic surgeon in New York state, shared a personal anecdote about the unconventional procedure. “I had a close personal friend who had severe facial neuralgia and couldn’t find relief.” Epstein says his friend, an attorney, struggled with the affliction and couldn’t find a solution. “His pain was so severe that when he was in the shower, it felt like his face was on fire. He couldn’t drive and it was impacting every aspect of his life.” After reviewing case studies and anecdotal evidence from other surgeons, Epstein thought to try Botox to see if it may help. “I told him we’ll try Botox and see how you do and the change was dramatic.”
While often ridiculed for the distorted and clown-like faces of overdone celebrities, Botox is one of the most successful minimally-invasive treatments for wrinkles, and that’s before even getting into what else it is capable of. “This is just another way that Botox is being used to change lives,” says Epstein.