By Robin Farmer
Migraines can be treated without medication or diet changes, according to Sheldon Low, MSPT, an Orinda, Calif.-based physical therapist whose novel approach involves working on scalp scar tissue.
The head bumps and lumps caused by childhood falls or injury form scar tissue that grows tighter over time, according to Low, who has been a PT for 35 years. This tightening affects the nerve endings in the scalp. By taking pressure off the scar tissue, he can stop the pain that causes migraines, neck pain or chronic tension, said Low, who will share his techniques in a book he hopes to publish in 2016.
A self-funded pilot study found 80% of his patients showed significant improvements, which included needing less medication, feeling less pain, being more physically functional or being cured completely.
TodayInPT.com spoke with Low about his migraine treatment and how long it takes for patients to find relief.
Q: When did you start your practice and what types of treatment are offered?
A: My father started Orinda Physical Therapy in 1958. We do manual therapy. We do hands-on orthopedic work. I specialize in soft tissue injuries. I’ve taken a lot of soft tissue courses.
Q: Is your technique new?
A: The technique isn’t new. It’s the location that is different. The technique is basic pinpoint soft tissue mobilization, very similar to working any surgery scar. If anyone has worked on knee replacement scars, that’s the kind of work I do.
Q: What is the connection between childhood injuries and migraines?
A: When you are a kid and fall … you have a raised bruise on your head and it heals with a certain amount of scarring. And it never stretches out because your head bones don’t move like your knuckles. As you get past [ages] 15 and 20, you get less elastic. You have to loosen up the adhesions on your head. They don’t stretch out; they get tighter as you get older. So all of a sudden … you start having migraines and you haven’t had a new concussion or anything and you don’t know where the migraines came from, but it could be all of your childhood falls. These things can come without any new impacts because of the scar tissues.
Q: Do you massage the scar tissue and for how long?
A: I am not massaging. I am actually breaking down the scar tissue by doing the soft tissue mobilization technique. It’s more like controlled shearing; it’s like peeling an orange without breaking the peel. Treatment is for half an hour. The quickest an adult has gotten pain free is four visits, and some take 30 plus. The average is anywhere in between.
Q: Have you published your findings?
A: I did a pilot study of 20 people and I did 15 free visits. And the results were statistically significant, but the research wasn’t published. I didn’t go through an ethics committee.
Q: What will readers learn from your book?
A: They can self-treat. If you did 10 minutes on yourself twice a day, and you had migraines, it would probably take a month to feel decreased symptoms.
Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: There are no scalp treatments for anything other than Botox in the back of the head … for migraines. No one is doing any manual therapy on the scalp. The pain is in your head. How come no one has bothered to look at the nerves?
Robin Farmer is a freelance writer.