In my experience, this was one procedure it was best not to think too much about ahead of time: having a 30 gauge needle stuck repeatedly into your head in order to inject multiple doses of neurotoxin.
Most people think of Botox as a cosmetic procedure that reduces wrinkles. But Botox is used medically to treat several conditions, such as repetitive neck spasms (cervical dystonia) and chronic migraines. Botox injections work by weakening or paralyzing targeted muscles or by blocking specific nerves. Although scientists still don’t know exactly how Botox works for chronic migraines, according to The Migraine Trust:
A recent US study by Rami Burstein et al using animal models suggested that botulinum toxin inhibits pain in chronic migraine by reducing the expression of certain pain pathways involving nerve cells in the trigeminovascular system…
Unlike many of the other conditions in which it is used, it is not thought to work by relaxing overactive muscles.
In my case, the Botox injections were prescribed to treat chronic migraines (more than 15 headache days per month) which had not responded to any prescribed medications.
Since I was a bit apprehensive, I did research prior to the procedure, and watched several YouTube videos about the procedure, which made me think a little too much about needles going into my scalp and face.
I couldn’t find a good video that demonstrated the procedure for patients – most of the videos are either commercials for the product, technical demonstrations for healthcare professionals, or patients talking about their experiences. This video is a technical video produced for healthcare professionals, but it gives you a good idea of the procedure:
My treatment began with me lying on my back on the examination table, and receiving injections in my forehead, temples, and scalp. After that portion of the treatment was done, I was asked to sit in a chair and put my head on a pillow on the exam table. (My arms were crossed, and my head was resting on them, like in the elementary school game of Thumbs up, 7-up.)
While I was sitting in the chair, injections were administered to my scalp and trapezius muscles.
Unlike in the video, my provider did not use ice packs to numb the injection sites. Some of the injections stung a bit as the Botox went in, but they didn’t hurt as much as some of the patients on YouTube had said they would. Also, some of the injections were more painful than others. For me, the injections in my left temple and behind my left ear were the most painful. That’s the side on which I get most of my migraines, so the nurse practitioner figured those nerves were hyper-sensitive.
One of the injection sites on my face bled onto the pillow a little bit when I was getting the injections to the back of my scalp, and the injection sites were a little bit red and swollen for about an hour after the injections, so I kind-of looked like I had hives (or bee stings?).
But the staff was very careful to follow sanitary procedures, including cleaning the sites with antiseptic and treating the site that bled with clean gauze.
Also, I had no negative reactions to the Botox, so it turned out to not really be a big deal at all, and my apprehension was for nothing.
The entire procedure took about 20 minutes, and the effects should last for about 3 months. Botox injections are not a cure for migraines – they are a treatment, meaning that they don’t fix what’s wrong; they only treat the symptoms. If the injections work to lessen my migraines, I will have to continue getting injections once every three months for the rest of my life.
After injections, results are typically felt within 3-4 days. However, studies show that most people do not experience the full effect until 6 months of treatment, which would be after the second or third series of injections.
(In other words, like other treatments, Botox for chronic migraines doesn’t work for everyone.)
Potential Side Effects of Botox treatment: Pain, swelling, or bruising at the injection sites. If the person administering the shots isn’t careful to avoid certain muscles, you could have a drooping eyelid – or be unable to hold your head up – until the Botox wears off.
NOTE: Even though the injection sites might feel a little weird (slightly swollen, numb), it is very important not to rub the injection sites, as this can cause the toxin to spread outside of the designated areas.
[For more information on Botox, see this 2009 New York Times article. Note that Botox has been approved for chronic migraine treatment subsequent to this article.]
Have you had medical Botox injections? What was your experience with them? Please comment below.
Update: One week after Botox
Still having debilitating migraines, but I’ve started to feel a little bit better. Still very light-sensitive. Less motion in my forehead muscles – can still make a Spock eyebrow, but the eyebrow doesn’t go as high. Slight furrow when I frown. Shoulder tension noticeably reduced; able to activate shoulder muscles that had been constantly tense. Puffy eyes.
Update: Two weeks after Botox
Still having debilitating migraines, but also a few productive days. Still very light-sensitive. Very little motion in forehead muscles – can’t make a Spock eyebrow anymore. Almost no motion when I frown or try to look surprised. Shoulder tension noticeably reduced, with better range of motion of shoulder muscles. Eyes still very puffy – but not drooping.
Update: ~ Nine weeks after Botox
My provider had informed me that, for some people, the effects do not last the full 12 weeks. For these people, he said, Botox wears off a week or two before the next treatment. For me, the Botox wore off 2 1/2 to 3 weeks before my next treatment. My migraines returned with a vengeance, like they were making up for lost time. While I appreciated the reduction in migraine symptoms and migraine frequency for nine weeks, having them return and knowing there’s nothing I can do about it for nearly three weeks until the next scheduled treatment sucks.
[The FDA approved Botox for migraine treatment at a 12 week interval, so even if it doesn’t last the full duration, the provider cannot shorten the interval.]