Migraines were hard to diagnose and treatments were even harder to grasp before the 19th century. It wasn’t until medicine developed and research started to shift towards understanding the brain that anything could happen.
Hippocrates, a well-respected physician of the Ancient Greek World, recommended cupping. Cupping, as you might have seen its after effects in the summer Olympics, is very popular amongst athletes. Cupping is therapy in which glass cups are heated up and applied on the skin to create a suction effect. Some doctors still recommend this type of treatment for migraines, despite its lack of effectiveness.
Aretaues of Cappadocia, a physician from the 2nd Century, who was considered to be one of the best physicians from the Ancient World, is credited for the discovery of migraines. He contributed much valuable information to the field of medicine; in the ancient world he wrote 8 books, one of which contained a series of studies and observations of migraines. To cure migraines, he advocated for “bloodletting.” He believed that draining a bit of blood would cure the fullness felt in the head when suffering a migraine attack.
Moshe ben Maimon, a well-known Hebrew physician in the 12th Century, believed that hot baths could help migraine sufferers. He believed that a hot bath accompanied by a massage of the temples would help “let the humours out.” The massage was to be conducted with rose oil. Herbal oils are still recommended as a form of therapy for migraine sufferers.
Dutch Physician, Pieter Van Foreest, still used bloodletting in the 1500’s by using leeches to drain blood. A Scottish physician, Robert Whytt, treated migraine patients in the 1600’s in a similar way. The bloodletting method was very popular and used up to the 18th century.
Cauterization of the skull (burning off part of it) was very common and used for centuries, but it would only be used if the patient was desperate. Claude Pouteau, an 18th century French doctor, was known for frequently performing cauterization.
Incisional Garlic was introduced by Abulcasis. His tactic was to “peel and cut [the skin of the head] at the two ends, make an incision at the temples with a large scalpel and make space underneath the skin enough to completely hide the garlic.”
The ‘Dutch Hippocrates’ Forestus generally advised trepanation just to help nature, but in an incurable case he ultimately applied the trepan and found a ‘black worm’ on the dura (possibly a chronic subdural hematoma); (dura is part of the meninges).