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Is Acupuncture for Migraines the Solution You Are Seeking?

A woman sitting outdoors holding her head due to a migraine.
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Migraines, with their throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and accompanying nausea, can be debilitating in daily life. For those who experience frequent migraine attacks, the quest for relief often leads to exploring various treatment options. While conventional migraine medications are commonly prescribed, many individuals seek alternatives due to concerns about side effects or simply a desire for natural and holistic approaches. Acupuncture for migraines is one such alternative.

Acupuncture is a centuries-old practice that has gained attention in recent years as a potential solution for the all-too-common migraine, both to provide relief and as a prevention method, with word-of-mouth positive outcomes shedding light on the potential benefits. So, could it indeed be the answer to your troubles? Below, we explore everything you’re curious about and need to know about migraine acupuncture – its efficacy, safety, and the hope it offers.

Understanding Migraines

Living with migraine headaches is tough on its own, but it becomes even more challenging when having to explain to others that it’s more than just a typical headache. Migraines are neurological disorders characterized by severe headaches accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia).

Migraine headaches can significantly impact the quality of life, leading to missed workdays, social isolation, and decreased productivity due to avoiding physical activity. Migraines are not attributed to a single specific cause but may result from various factors, such as genetics, environmental factors, imbalance in brain chemicals (such as serotonin), hormonal changes in women, and stress, to name a few.

Types and Frequency of Migraines

In terms of headache frequency, migraines can be divided into two main categories: episodic migraines, which are acute attacks that occur occasionally, and chronic migraines, which occur more frequently, typically defined as 15 or more headache days per month.

The frequency, duration, and pain intensity of migraine attacks vary from person to person, with some experiencing sporadic episodes and others enduring chronic pain with daily or near-daily headaches.

Migraine Stages & Symptoms

Migraines tend to move through several stages.

  • Prodrome phase: This is the phase that occurs before a migraine attack. During this time, individuals may experience constipation, mood swings, food cravings, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning.
  • Aura phase: Some people experience neurological symptoms before or during a migraine attack, including changes in vision or visual disturbances, changes in sensation and hearing, and difficulty speaking.
  • Headache phase: The actual migraine attack phase includes symptoms described above, such as throbbing or pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head, sensitivity to light, sounds, smell, and touch, nausea and/or vomiting, blurred vision, and eye pain.
  • Post-drome phase: After the migraine attack, some individuals may experience confusion, mood swings, dizziness, weakness, or fatigue and still be sensitive to light and sound.

Conventional Treatments for Migraines – The Western Approach

Western medicine offers various medications and pharmacological treatments for migraine prevention and relief, including over-the-counter painkillers, prescription drugs, and preventive medications. The standard therapy often includes pharmaceuticals like ergotamines and triptans. While these medications can provide relief for some individuals, they often come with side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and rebound headaches due to medication overuse. 

Despite advancements in medical treatments, many continue to experience inadequate relief or intolerable side effects. These days, more and more people are leaning towards holistic and natural remedies for migraine management to reduce medication intake. 

If you’re someone exploring alternative treatments for migraines to complement or replace conventional chronic headache treatments, this is where it gets interesting.

What Is Acupuncture for Migraines? Alternative Medicine Solutions

A person undergoing an acupuncture for migraines treatment.

Acupuncture therapies are a key component of traditional Chinese medicine dating back thousands of years. This centuries-old practice is not just about poking and prodding but about finding harmony and restoring balance within our bodies. According to Chinese acupuncture principles, the body’s vital energy, known as “Qi,” flows through 14 meridians across the body. Imbalances or blockages in this flow can lead to various ailments, including migraines.

Thus, acupuncture isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution but a set of different types of acupuncture, each tailored to individual needs by targeting specific acupuncture points. One that’s been getting a lot of attention lately is pain management acupuncture. It has become one of the go-to alternatives people turn to for chronic pain – something that seems to weigh down so many of us. And it seems that it could offer relief for migraine pain, too. 

How Acupuncture for Migraines Works – The Principles of Acupuncture Treatments

Acupuncture involves the precise insertion of ultra-thin needles into specific points on the skin, known as acupoints, believed to be connected to the pathways that regulate the flow of Qi. By stimulating these points, acupuncture aims to restore balance and promote healing. So, how do these tiny needles bring relief from migraines?

When treating migraines with acupuncture, acupuncturists target acupoints associated with relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and rebalancing the energy flow. While the exact mechanisms of the effect acupuncture has on migraines are not fully understood, several theories exist.

Acupuncture has been found to affect the nervous system and stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins, modulating pain perception, reducing inflammatory factor levels, and regulating blood flow, all of which could contribute to migraine relief.

  • Activation of Brain Pathways: Acupuncture is believed to activate brain pathways responsible for turning pain off.
  • Endorphin Release: Needle insertion triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.
  • Serotonin Regulation: Acupuncture may also influence the part of the brain associated with dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters linked to mood regulation. Fluctuations in serotonin levels have also been associated with the onset of migraines.
  • Immune and circulation system stimulation: Acupuncture aids in balancing inflammation and regulating the production of prostaglandins, hormones that promote pain. Stimulating the circulatory system can also reduce neck pain and tightness by promoting cerebral blood flow and relaxing the muscles.

Evidence Supporting Its Effectiveness

The tougher the medical puzzle to solve, the more solutions we seek. It’s a reality that hits home for migraine. That’s why there’s been a surge of curiosity among the medical community to examine whether acupuncture holds the key to easing this health condition by reducing migraine intensity and frequency.

Over the years, numerous acupuncture studies and clinical trials have investigated the efficacy of acupuncture for migraine treatment and prevention. So, what does the evidence say? Is manual acupuncture for migraines an effective treatment? 

A 2017 randomized clinical trial published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigated the long-term efficacy of true acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture on 249 patients. It found that real acupuncture significantly reduced the frequency of migraine attacks compared to sham acupuncture, concluding that acupuncture for migraines might be a valuable non-pharmacologic treatment option.

A 2020 review of the existing body of evidence explored the role of acupuncture in the treatment of migraine. Given the current study data, acupuncture seems to be a viable migraine treatment, offering valuable support alongside other non-pharmacological approaches. It stands toe-to-toe with preventive medications in effectiveness, is safe, easily available, and cost-efficient, potentially reducing reliance on drug therapy with unwanted side effects.

Another overview of systematic reviews confirmed the findings from previous studies that acupuncture was indeed associated with a significant reduction in migraine frequency compared to sham acupuncture in migraine patients.

What Are the Side Effects of Acupuncture for Migraines? Is it Safe?

Acupuncture is generally safe when performed by trained practitioners using sterile needles, with a low complication rate. Acupuncture side effects are mild and rare but can include bruising, soreness at the needle site, or fainting in some cases.

Numerous studies have shown that acupuncture for migraines is an effective and safe treatment that can reduce the frequency and degree of headaches with none of the adverse effects associated with the use of pharmaceuticals.

What to Expect from a Treatment

A man with an acupuncture needle in his forehead trying to treat a migraine with acupuncture.

The acupuncturist will place needles at specific acupoints, often along a person’s back or neck, where they can slow pain transmission. However, the positioning of needles is personalized, meaning that each migraine patient may undergo a unique distribution and quantity of needles.

Some sessions also include a gentle head massage alongside needle placement and even aromatherapy or other relaxation techniques. Acupuncturists may also recommend lifestyle or dietary changes to complement it, such as avoiding caffeine, which can exacerbate migraines.

The acupuncture treatment typically lasts about an hour. For optimal results, at least six to eight sessions of acupuncture are recommended (usually once a week). Since it’s individualized, the exact number and frequency of sessions will be determined by your chosen practitioner.

Exploring Acupuncture for Migraines

If you’re struggling to find relief from frequent migraine attacks or are wary of the side effects associated with conventional medications, it’s good to know that relief is within reach and that acupuncture for migraines may offer an effective alternative. 

As with any medical treatment, it’s essential to consult with a qualified practitioner to determine the best approach for managing your headaches and improving your quality of life. At BH Acuhealth Clinic, we know this very well, which is why our approach to acupuncture for pain management is as unique as you are. 

Whether you’re seeking primary treatment or supplemental therapy, our team will work with you to create a holistic plan that aligns with your needs and goals. With compassion at the heart of what we do, we’ll collaborate closely with your primary health provider to ensure a comprehensive approach to your care. Take the first step towards reclaiming your life. Dr. Mitra Daneshrad

Book your acupuncture appointment today, and let’s work on that pain-free tomorrow.


Make an Appointment: (424) 466-8966