Treating Headaches & Migraines

Acupuncture Treatment For Headaches and Migraines

The popularity of acupuncture has increased dramatically in recent years as individuals suffering from chronic pain and a host of other medical conditions realize the efficacy of this Chinese alternative medicine.

If you are suffering from the severe pain caused by headaches and migraines, read on to see what acupuncture can do for you.

David LeGar L.AcMy clinical experience with headaches and migraines has been extremely positive. It is one of my favorite things to treat. Most patients respond quickly, generally in five treatments or less. One of my favorite clinical stories is of a 40 year old female that suffered from migraines one week before her menses every month for about 27 years. In just five treatments the migraines were gone, that is amazing for a condition that was almost three decades old. Insurance has also seen the benefits, and if you have acupuncture coverage then migraines and headaches are conditions that will be covered. – David LeGar LAc

What Type of Headache Do You Have?

In Western and Chinese medicine, there are two distinct types of headaches: ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’:

  • Primary: Includes migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches.
  • Secondary: Caused by other medical conditions such as dental disorders, head injuries, sinus disease etc.

Acupuncture is used to relieve the pain caused by primary headaches. Here is a list of well-known types of headache:tension headache

  • Tension Headaches: These are the most common type of headaches; they are recurrent and can last for just minutes or for several days at a time and are deemed to be ‘mild’ or ‘moderate’ in terms of severity.
  • Migraines: These pulsating or throbbing headaches normally happen on one side of the head and can cause severe pain. In some cases, the pain will get worse with activity and sufferers often find their migraines are sensitive to noise or light.
  • Chronic Headaches: This type of headache can resemble migraine or tension headaches and typically happen on an almost daily basis over a long period of time. Overuse of medication can actually exacerbate symptoms.
  • Dangerous Headaches: This type of headache can actually be a sign of a more serious medical condition. This may include headaches that develop after trauma and they might include symptoms such as vomiting with no nausea, fever, dizziness, neck pain and hypertension.

What Acupuncture Can Do For You

The problem with the majority of medications you receive is that they relieve the pain itself but not the underlying problem. You end up getting short-term relief and may develop a reliance on medication. Overuse may not only reduce the effectiveness of the treatment, it can be extremely unhealthy in the long-term.

headache woman acupunctureIn traditional Chinese medicine, recurring headaches and migraines are not recognized as a particular syndrome. The aim of acupuncture is to treat specific symptoms unique to you as a means of restoring imbalances in your body. As a consequence, your treatment depends on a number of things. For instance:

  • Is your headache located on top of your head or do you typically feel pain behind the eyes?
  • At what time of day or night do you get the headaches?
  • Does lying in a dark room reduce the pain?
  • Is the pain sharp and piercing or dull and throbbing?

Once you have answered a list of questions, your practitioner will be able to create a personalized treatment plan. Acupuncture points to treat your headache or migraine pain are located all over your body. Don’t be surprised to find needles stuck into your shoulders, arms, and even your big toe.

You should not be concerned about the needles causing pain because they are incredibly thin and you are not likely to feel more than a moment of mild discomfort when the needle penetrates the skin. Your treatment plan may involve 1-2 sessions a week which could be 5-30 minutes in length. While some ailments can be dealt with in a short time-frame, severe ailments will naturally take longer to deal with.

Preventing Migraines With Acupuncture

acupuncture for headacheAs well as easing the pain of existing migraines, you can also use acupuncture to prevent them from returning; the technique can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and reduce muscle tension. Most people who suffer from migraines have a lot of muscle tension in the upper back and neck; clearly, releasing this tension is likely to reduce the number of migraines they get in the future.

Your acupuncturist is likely to recommend some lifestyle changes too. For instance, try to sleep 7-8 hours every night, avoid caffeine & alcohol and cut down on foods that may trigger your headaches; common culprits include chocolate, wheat and dairy.

Scientific Evidence

It is becoming more difficult for skeptics to play down the effectiveness of acupuncture because scientific evidence keeps flooding in. Below, we look at just two of the countless studies which show that acupuncture is a great way to relieve or even eliminate pain.

Canadian Medical Association Journal

acupuncture relief for neck painThis study involved almost 500 adults who suffered from regular migraines. They were all given acupuncture treatment but some participants had the needles placed away from the traditional pressure points.

This appeared to make little initial difference as every single person in the group reported a reduction in the frequency and intensity of the migraines after completing the treatment. Before the study, the average frequency was six days of migraines a month within the group. After the study, this had fallen to three days a month.

Interestingly, only the patients who had the needles placed in the traditional pressure points continued to enjoy a reduction in headaches over the following three months. This certainly casts doubts on Dr. White’s assertion that the needles can be placed anywhere and still be extremely effective.

The Cochrane Library

This renowned publication featured two new reviews; both of which found that acupuncture is an effective alternative treatment for migraine and tension headaches. Both reviews were carried out by experts at the Technical University of Munich.

Review #1 involved a look at 11 studies which featured over 2,300 patients. The studies compared those who had traditional acupuncture with patients who had painkillers or acupuncture where the needles were placed away from the typical pressure points.

While 16% of patients in the control groups had a decrease in number of headaches after treatment, this does not compare favorably to the acupuncture group where a reduction in headaches was enjoyed by 47% of patients.

Review #2 involved looking at 22 trials with over 4,400 participants who had received a migraine diagnosis. Six studies compared acupuncture treatment to painkillers. Within 3-4 months, patients who received acupuncture had fewer headaches.

According to Klaus Linde, the lead reviewer, overall the studies showed that acupuncture is a more effective way to relieve migraine and tension headache pain than painkillers regardless of where the needles are inserted.


acupuncture foreheadThanks to a litany of evidence spanning decades, acupuncture is finally recognized as an effective method of treating the pain associated with a range of medical conditions. In the majority of states, the field is strictly regulated in order to guarantee a high standard of treatment.

If you are suffering from migraines or one of the other headache types mentioned above, get in touch with an acupuncturist that has formal training and several years of experience.
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