The Evidence Behind Acupuncture for Migraines

The roots and history of acupuncture are as rich as the Chinese culture from which it is believed to originate. Some believe these treatments date back to 6,000 B.C.E., while others prefer to look at the first documented written description of acupuncture, which was in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine in 100 B.C.E.

History aside, there’s still a lot of confusion and ambiguity around the ancient concept of acupuncture points and meridians. So, let’s look at how acupuncture works, review what research has told us in the last few years, and discuss what to expect if you choose to take this route of treatment. It’s a good way to explore if you suffer from long-term pain conditions like migraines or adrenal fatigue syndrome.

How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture patients usually undergo hour-long treatments, and the practitioner often recommends at least six sessions, one session per week. During treatment, the specialist pierces your body with several thin needles in what’s called your acupuncture points, which are strategically placed on and around your meridians.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

When you are in pain or sick, these meridians are believed to be “clogged,” so the purpose of acupuncture is to pierce into these areas to “unclog” the meridians and balance out the flow of your life’s energy, or “Qi.”  

While there’s still skepticism around whether meridians are “real,” there’s no ignoring the evidence in studies performed since 2005. Science is a demanding mistress; she’ll only take the truth, and the truth is that acupuncture has been proven to help some people with chronic and painful illnesses like migraines

What the Research Says

Rather than muddying up your blog post with links to studies, I’ll simply direct you to the end of this blog post, where I’ve provided a list of those studies and their links.  Here’s the gist of what they found:

  • There is a neurochemical response to acupuncture in the brain.
  • Acupuncture increased creatine levels in patients who suffered migraines without aura. Low creatine has been linked to some types of migraines.
  • Improvements in the patients experiencing migraines, low back pain or osteoarthritis were like the relief they got with non-opioid pain medications.
  • Brain fog is a real issue with migraineurs and adrenal fatigue patients. Acupuncture was found to help improve brain function and lower high blood pressure.
  • Researchers can’t prove meridians exist, and the ambiguity around how acupuncture is explained and practiced has led to a huge amount of unnecessary skepticism.
  • Acupuncture is found to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines in about 59% of cases, and these improvements lasted at least six months.

Acupuncture is a safe and potentially effective treatment option for migraineurs. Even if it doesn’t help your headache, patients usually walk away feeling more relaxed and at peace. One of the primary causes of migraines is stress, so this can be seen as an added benefit.

What to Expect

First, don’t expect insurance to pay for your acupuncture treatment. It’s not likely to be part of your coverage; however, prices are usually reasonable, ranging from $50-$90 per session, and six sessions over six weeks is the common treatment plan for migraines without aura or cervicogenic headache. 

If you have migraine with aura, this doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from the treatment. It means the studies were specific to people experiencing the condition without aura. 

Look for a traditional acupuncturist with a good amount of experience and enough positive reviews from other patients to make you feel comfortable.

Remember, there is no magic fix. If you’re having trouble finding a good regimen for your migraines, reach out to me. You can reach me through my website or social media pages, and you are welcome to call my office to schedule. Reach out whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or you have questions about the topics here and around the internet.