Tips & Techniques

What is the Migraine Bucket Theory?

Dana Tress 
June 1, 2023
What is the Migraine Bucket Theory?

We know migraine is a neurological disorder that can cause symptoms that stretch far beyond a headache (or even with no headache at all).  We also know that certain things can trigger a migraine attack.  The theory on how this happens has evolved over the years.  Current research supports the idea of the Migraine “Bucket Theory” as the rationale for how a migraine begins.  

We know that a variety of environmental, psychological and physiological factors influence the onset of migraine.  Lack of sleep, stress, certain foods, and even changes in weather are known migraine “triggers.”  What could not be explained before, however, is why a migraine did not occur every time a person was exposed to the same trigger.  This notion can be explained through the following example:

A person who is allergic to almonds will always have an allergic reaction when exposed to almonds (assuming no treatment has been provided).  But, a person who believes that almonds are a migraine trigger may not develop a migraine after eating almonds one day but will the next.  How do we account for this?

The Bucket Theory for migraine development suggests that individuals with migraine disorder are exposed to a variety of migraine triggers over time.  These triggers accumulate and fill up a proverbial “trigger bucket” until the bucket becomes full.  Once the bucket is full, the next trigger an individual is exposed to will overwhelm the neurological system and result in a migraine.  The threshold for the bucket to become full varies from person to person.  The amount that a person is sensitive to the variety of triggers will also differ from person to person.

So, the question now is how do you keep your “bucket” as empty as possible so that you reduce the amount of migraines you experience?  There are multiple steps that you can take to reduce your overall stress level and reduce the amount of volume in your migraine bucket.  First, you can stick to a regular sleep schedule.  Stress reducing techniques such as meditation and mindfulness can also be helpful.  Following a migraine elimination diet also is beneficial for many people.  Finally, you can work with your healthcare team to determine the proper medications and supplements for you.

Lastly, one of the most important things that you can do is to remain educated about migraine. Be sure to share your knowledge with others to gain their understanding and support, and surround yourself with a knowledgeable healthcare team.


Meet the Author
Dana Tress, PT, MS, CEAS, AIB-CON is a physical therapist specializing in the management of concussion, balance dysfunction, headaches and dizziness in Crystal Lake, Illinois at Smith Physical Therapy Balance + Concussion Center, an award winner in concierge physical therapy services for McHenry County and surrounding regions.
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