Until I became an acupuncturist I hadn’t realised just how many people struggled with headaches and migraines!!
In fact, I would probably say that I use acupuncture for migraines and headaches more than any other condition.
According to the World Health Organisation:
- Headaches are among the most common disorders of the nervous system.
- Almost half of the adult population has had a headache at least once within the last year!
- Headache has been underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world.
Types of headache
There are many different types and causes of headaches and it is helpful to know which type you have:
- tension headache
- cluster headache
- chronic daily headache
- medication overuse (rebound) headache…..
…….to name but a few!
The International Headache Society has two broad categories for headache disorders:
- The first is based on symptoms (called primary headache disorders) and includes migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headaches.
- The second is based on their causes (called secondary headache disorders). This would include headaches associated with a head injury, stroke, substance misuse and/or their withdrawal (including alcohol), infection, disorders of the neck, eyes, nose, sinuses or teeth.
How is a headache different from a migraine?
There is a difference between a headache and a migraine headache.
Headaches are not usually accompanied by other symptoms associated with migraine.
However, it is quite likely that if you have migraine you will also experience other headaches.
Headaches can vary greatly in their duration, cause and severity.
A hangover headache, for example goes within a few hours and headaches associated with an infectious illness improve when the illness is over.
It is really important to identify the type of headache you have so you can get the right sort of treatment and advice.
A headache can be the result of a whole variety of factors such as head injuries, infections and other medical conditions.
In general terms, migraine attacks are experienced as a headache of at least moderate severity usually on one side of the head.
They often occur with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise (though some people experience migraine without headache).
The headache is usually made worse by physical activity.
Migraine attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours and in most cases there is complete freedom from symptoms between attacks.
Certain factors are involved in triggering an attack in those predisposed to migraine and these can include lifestyle, and hormonal changes.
How Does Acupuncture for Migraines and Headaches Help?
Acupuncture helps migraines and headaches by:
- reducing inflammation
- lowering blood pressure
- increasing circulation of blood and lymph
- increasing endorphins and opioids (natural pain killers)
- preventing the chemicals that signal pain from even being formed.
Many other signs and symptoms are taken into consideration alongside the headache pattern, to paint a comprehensive picture of the whole person’s health and constitutional tendencies.
Even if two patients seem to have the same type of right sided temple migraine, their treatments may be very different, because their constitutions and lifestyle habits are unique.
Your acupuncturist might ask many questions, such as:
- Where are your headaches located? Temples, back of head, forehead, behind your eyes….
- How do your headaches feel? Dull, aching, throbbing, sharp, stabbing….
- Are they fixed in one place or do they move around?
- When do they occur? A particular time of day, when stressed, after meals, when hungry, before/after a period….
- Are there any accompanying symptoms? Red face/eyes, neck/shoulder tension, digestive issues…..
As you can see, an acupuncturist really tries to get to the root of the problem and will come up with an individualised treatment plan.
Once your treatment plan is worked out, an acupuncturist will select a number of acupuncture points.
These will vary from person to person and will depend upon the type of headache or migraine you experience.
Quite often the points will be located on the lower legs/feet and lower arms/hands.
You can read more about a typical treatment here.
Research supports acupuncture for migraines
A systematic review of acupuncture for migraine found that adding acupuncture to treatment reduces the frequency of headaches.
It also showed that acupuncture may be at least similarly effective as treatment with medication.
The review concluded that acupuncture can be considered a good treatment option.
Are you wanting to try acupuncture for migraines or headaches?
I recommend that you use an acupuncturist that is registered with The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) because members of the BAcC are guaranteed to have completed full training to degree level and will be covered by most private health insurers.
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