Does Acupuncture Help Migraines?

migraine & acupunctureMigraineurs are always looking for alternative options to control their headache symptoms, especially the debilitating effects like nausea, vomiting, and light or sound sensitivity.

As doctors, it is imperative to understand that treating chronic conditions like migraines is more complex than simply throwing pills at patients, hoping one of them will make it to the origin of the problem.  Meanwhile, many doctors are not even aiming that throw, but instead are tossing it over their shoulder in the rush to get out of the room before making your pain worse.

In this post, I want to talk about acupuncture for migraines, one of the most popular alternative treatment methods for this chronic condition.  We’ll review:

  • Background
  • What it treats
  • How it works
  • Side effects associated with the treatment


Acupuncture Background

You’ve probably heard the term a few times, especially in recent years as alternative medicine gains its ground in American culture.  Acupuncture is the practice of using small needles to puncture the body in specific spots, which stimulates body points to promote healing and recovery.

Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine that has been around since about 200 B.C., but it did not become popular in the United States until the 1970’s. The treatment is performed in private practices by trained acupuncturists.

Knowing the history and background of acupuncture makes it even more appealing to recommend for my migraine and adrenal fatigue patients.  There is a certain kind of magic in traditional Chinese medicine techniques like acupuncture. They have stood the test of time.  They have been raved about and criticized in equal measure, but one thing stands true: things that don’t work, don’t last.

Current Uses of Acupuncture

Acupuncture was finally given the title of “conventional medical technique” by the US National Institutes of Health in 1997.  Since then, acupuncture has been effective in treating the following:

  • Other types of headaches
  • Migraines
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chemotherapy effects
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Osteoarthritis


Acupuncture for Headache Pain

By inserting small, solid, metallic needles – which are FDA approved –into various points around the body, acupuncture stimulates endorphins (natural pain relievers), increases blood flow, and stimulates the nerves in the tendons, muscles, and joints.  That is really all we know.  Scientists are baffled as to how and why acupuncture helps with headache pain, but it is believed to be due to:

  • Increased blood flow
  • Muscle nerve stimulation
  • Release of endorphins


Acupuncture Side Effects

As with all medical treatments, side effects lurk in the background.  There are a few associated with acupuncture, including:

  • Soreness, bruising, or bleeding at the puncture sites
  • Internal tissue injury if needles are pushed in too far. Therefore, it is vital to find a qualified acupuncturist.
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Tiredness after the treatment

I’m sure some of you are cringing at the thought of having needles poked into your skin; however, this technique is generally painless.  If you are in the middle of an attack and feeling overly sensitive, however, then it would not be an appropriate time for acupuncture.  Additionally, those with pacemakers and bleeding or blood disorders should not receive the treatment.  The former, because electrical pulses are often used in acupuncture to help stimulate the nerves and this could disrupt the pacemaker.  The latter, because the body points stimulated will increase blood flow.

Remember to talk to your doctor before moving forward.  Many doctors will tell you they do not think it will help.  Try anyway.  What have you got to lose?  Yes, you will probably need to spend money since it will probably not be covered by insurance; however, isn’t it worth it if you get relief?


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