What’s does the brainstem do?

On this website I mention frequently that a sensitised brainstem is responsible for headache and migraine. But what is the brainstem and what does it do?

The brainstem is a complex area that forms the link between the body and the brain. It sits at the base of the skull and becomes the upper part of the spinal cord.


It has a variety of functions (and probably a few we haven’t discovered yet) and consists of 3 parts:

  • pons
  • midbrain and
  • medulla oblongata

The Pons 

This area relays information from the forebrain to the cerebellum and also deals with:

  • sleep
  • respiration
  • swallowing
  • bladder control
  • hearing
  • balance
  • taste
  • eye movement
  • facial expressions
  • facial sensation
  • posture

The Midbrain

The midbrain deals with:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • motor control
  • sleep and wake cycles
  • alertness
  • temperature regulation

The Medulla Oblongata

The medulla oblongata regulates some autonomic functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. It also deals with:

  • vomiting

From this list of functions of the brainstem we see a link to many of the associated features of headaches and migraines. Things like vomiting, visual disturbances, hot flushes, balance disturbances, decreased alertness, altered facial sensation (pins and needles) etc.

We also see why some things may acts as triggers for headaches and migraines. Things like altered blood pressure with hormonal changes, reduced sleep, bright lights, loud noises, some foods or tastes and poor posture.

A greater understanding of the brainstem and what it does can help people to understand why they get the symptoms they do.

If you need help for your headaches or migraines please call 0423 071 971 or click here to request a free phone consult.