There is no cure for migraines and as such it is one of the most frequent complaints that finds its way into the acupuncture clinic, with patients often being referred by their doctors, since western medicine cannot always treat it successfully. Acupuncture treatment is significantly more beneficial in treating migraines than any other therapeutic measure. More than 30% of patients receiving acupuncture in the west suffer from chronic headaches or migraine and the success achieved in treating these has enhanced the spread of acupuncture in the west.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is not just a bad headache, but more of an intense, extremely painful recurring headache which can last for several hours and continue for a couple of days. It may be accompanied by other symptoms such as visual problems, increased sensitivity to light or sound and some may experience nausea (feeling sick). Prior to a migraine starting you may have some warning signs, for example seeing zig zag lines, blurred vision, pins and needles of the face, lips and tongue, slurred speech, stiff neck or dizziness. Some people have a craving for sweets, are thirsty, feel sleepy or depressed. Following a migraine attack you can feel tired for two to three days. There is no cure for migraine, but with treatment they can be managed by reducing the frequency of attacks and relieving the pain once an attack has started.

Acupuncture for migraine headaches

What causes migraines?

The exact cause of migraines is not known. People who experience an aura before an attack may be experiencing an electrical disturbance in the brain. During a migraine attack there appears to be a change in the blood vessels in the brain, altering the biochemistry and resulting in inflammation. Women are twice as likely to experience migraine as men, this is thought to be due to hormonal changes, occurring either just before a (menstrual) period or just after it starts. Some women can develop migraines when they start the birth control pill, as can women approaching menopause or taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

Migraine triggers

Migraine triggers can be varied and different for each person and therefore it helps to try and identify which factors might affect you so you can try and avoid them. Some people find they can cope with one trigger, but a combination of triggers can push you over the threshold to cause an attack. It may help to note what you have been eating or what you’ve been doing prior to an attack, which helps to identify your triggers and patterns.

Emotional triggers:

Stress, anxiety, anger, shock & excitement.

Physical triggers:

Eye strain from using a computer, neck and shoulder tension, lack of sleep, tiredness, and dental problems (e.g. grinding your teeth).

Environmental triggers:

Loud noise, bright lights and smokey environments.

Dietary triggers:

Irregular meals, lack of food, dehydration, caffeine, alcohol (especially red wine), chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits and foods with MSG (mono sodium glucamate). Artificial sweeteners (aspartame), tyramine and nitrates.

Other triggers:

Smoking and some sleeping tablets

[Brain and spine foundation]

What you can do to help prevent migraines

Eating regular meals, drinking plenty of water, keeping stress levels down and getting enough sleep is a good start. Also ensure you also take regular breaks from computer use, including laptops, desktops, tablets, smart phones and television/gaming consoles. Keeping a diary of your migraines will help identify your triggers and any patterns. It helps to take this information to your appointment. Many people may have already seen their GP who may have prescribed medication to help prevent the severity of attacks, but will not stop them completely.

Some suggested natural relief remedies.

Magnesium

A study in the International Headache Society Journal found that it helps the body’s receptors to be less sensitive to migraine triggers. Also note The Migraine Trust in regard to taking magnesium.

Folic Acid

Australian research shows that drastic improvements in the severity of migraines  when taking supplements.  Folic acid reduces homocysteine, of which high levels are found in people with the migraine gene MTHFR.

Vitamin B12 (riboflavin)

Australian studies has shown that increasing your uptake of  this has helped migraine sufferers.  Either take a supplement or eat more spinach and almonds.

Balance essential fatty acids

Too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 can lead to inflammation and trigger headaches. Limit processed foods as these often contain omega-6 rich polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Increase intake of  oily fish or take fish oil tablets.

Relaxation techniques

Meditation, pilates or yoga are helpful in managing stress.

[Healthy Magazine]

How can acupuncture help with migraines?

Acupuncture treatment for migraines is specific to the individual symptoms and underlying causes. Therefore the location and type of pain is very important for the planning of each persons acupuncture treatment.

Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach using our skill and experience to identify the underlying imbalance or root cause of the migraines. This can vary from person to person and as such the choice of acupuncture points chosen will be specific to each clients needs. In addition, changes in these choice of points may change and vary over time as improvements occur. Migraines are thought to begin as an electrical phenomenon in the cerebrum, which in turn affects blood vessels, biochemistry and causes neurogenic inflammation. Acupuncture can help by reducing the degree of electrical wave activity, regulating intra and extra cranial blood flow, therefore reducing inflammation and providing pain relief.

NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) have recommended acupuncture for tension type headaches and migraines, suggesting that GPs recommend acupuncture for their patients. All controlled studies show that acupuncture is effective in over 80% of patients, helping to reduce the intensity, frequency and duration of migraine attacks. A course of six to ten treatments is recommended at weekly intervals initially, then having longer periods between each session as sustained improvements are experienced.

 

If you suffer from migraine and would like to book an acupuncture treatment, contact Mary.

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Further reading

Results of academic studies and research on the efficacy of treating migraines with acupuncture.

Can acupuncture cure my migraine? – BBC Article