Can acupuncture help migraines?
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Traditional acupuncture uses Chinese Medicine theory to look at the whole of you. How all of your symptoms manifest is unique to you. A migraine in one person may be accompanied by entirely different symptoms and causes than a migraine in another person.
When you met with a traditional acupuncturist they will spend time asking you a lot of questions to identify your type of migraines and how they relate to your body, mind or spirit.
Your acupuncturist will want to find out:
what triggers your migraines: how are your emotions; how is your diet; how is work; do you get the chance to rest; have you had a history of acute of chronic illness; have you had a history of any traumas?
when do you get migraines: do you wake up in pain; is it worse in the mornings; is it worse in the afternoons; is it worse at night?
where do you feel pain: is it at the base of your head and neck; is it on your forehead; is it at your temples; is it behind your eyes; is it at the top of your head; is it your whole head?
how do you describe the pain: is it tight and contracting; is it distending or splitting; is it as if your head is heavy and as if wrapped in cotton wool; is it pulsating, bursting or piercing; is it drilling, stabbing or boring; is it dull and empty like a hole; is it sometimes mild and persistent; is it sometimes a vague pain like an empty internal sensation?
what makes the pain better or worse: is it better or worse with heat and cold; is it worse in damp environments; is it worse in thundery weather; is worse or better with movement; is it better lying down; is it worse with stress; is it better or worse with eating; is worse with heating foods or alcohol; is it worse before or after your period; is it worse during your period?
your pulse and your tongue: your acupuncturist will take your pulse and may look at your tongue for diagnostic information.
From all this information, your acupuncturist will then decide why your migraines are manifesting in you according to how they fit with the Chinese Medicine understanding of your intertwining body functions. In the Chinese Medicine tradition that I come from, a diagram will be created that maps out all your signs and symptoms to identify which Chinese Medicine syndromes you display and the background aetiology of your migraine.
Your acupuncturist will then come up with a plan for your treatment. NICE guidelines for the over 12s for migraines with or without an aura state that a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture should be considered over 5 to 8 weeks according to your preference, comorbidities and risk of adverse events if both Topiramate and Propranolol are unsuitable or ineffective. I will always check you have told your doctor about any troubling symptoms you might have, and acupuncture can work effectively alongside any care you are receiving from your doctor.
There are many great acupuncture points that help treat directly and tackle the causes behind your migraine. A classic point is called Hegu, Large Intestine 4, located in the web between your thumb and forefinger. This point is often the subject of research, and a quick word search on the evidence repository on Pub Med brings up a ton of research about this point. Your acupuncturist might give you instructions for at-home acupressure to massage this point.
For a good overview of evidence for acupuncture and migraines check out the Migraine factsheet of the British Acupuncture Council (be sure to read the evidence explainer page first).
If this article has sparked your interest and you would like to find out more, please reach out. I am always happy to receive enquires.
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