Migraines affect around 17% of men and 30% of women between the ages of 21 and 34 years. If left untreated, these migraine headaches can become chronic after gradually evolving, which can prove challenging for both social and personal economic costs.
Whether you are at work, on vacation, at a fancy dinner or just relaxing, having a migraine means your entire day is put on hold. The pain is distracting and unbearable; it doesn’t just reduce your attention and focus, but it can also lead to other debilitating health issues.
Conventional medicine can help in easing your migraine symptoms but, in many cases, they aren’t enough. Fortunately, acupuncture can prove to be an effective treatment for migraine.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an Ancient Chinese practice which utilizes filament-like needles to stimulate specific points of your body to ease pain or for treating numerous health issues.
Acupuncture has been in practice in China for over the past 3000 years. It started spreading to America and Europe during the 19th century. According to this practice, there are various meridians, channels, or points in the human body; and if there is an imbalance of energy at those points, then the affected inpidual may experience an illness or pain.
Acupuncture is utilized to treat various types of conditions including muscle pain, blood pressure issues, smoking and more. Additionally, several studies have been conducted to determine the benefits of acupuncture, and it has been found to be effective in relieving headaches, especially migraines. Some studies also found acupuncture to be effective in treating tension-type headaches as well.
Acupuncture as a Migraine Treatment
A study reviewing 22 clinical trials that included 4,985 students found that acupuncture can decrease the headache frequency in people suffering from migraine. The results indicated that the effect of acupuncture treatment might be similar to that of preventive medications.
This research study showed that the headache frequency was reduced by 50% in 59% of the people who received acupuncture treatment and this effect lasted for 6 months or more.
How It Works
Acupuncture focuses on keeping the flow of energy, known as qi, balanced throughout the meridians or pressure points. The acupuncturist inserts various filament-like needles along all of the pressure points where pain transmission can be slowed down.
In some cases, along with needles, the acupuncturist also gives a head massage in which the pressure points are gently pressed. Usually, this treatment lasts for an hour and patients are advised to return for additional sessions based on the severity of their migraines. Dietary changes are also suggested to them for preventing migraine in the future.
While it is still unclear how pain is alleviated through acupuncture, the common belief is that placing pressure on specific points helps to activate the brain pathways, which are accountable for switching off the pain.
What to Expect
It is understandable to be nervous when opting for an acupuncture treatment, especially if it is your first treatment. That is why it is advisable to be prepared for it. Firstly, your acupuncturist will conduct a short interview to understand your lifestyle, areas where you are experiencing pain, how long and frequency of pain and other relevant information.
The treatment will start with the acupuncturist inserting the filament-like needles in specific points of your body. Those needles might be placed there for a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on your case. They might be adjusted, electrically energized, or warmed up in order to intensify the overall effectiveness.
You might experience tingling, but it will be mild. If the tingling continues to grow, it is essential to inform your acupuncturist so they can make the necessary adjustments. For migraine pain, you might also receive a gentle massage, along with the needles.
After the treatment, you might experience a bit of itchiness or soreness, but this will go away afterwards.
Reasons Acupuncture Treatment Can Be Good for Migraine
Following are some of the many reasons acupuncture can be effective for your migraine:
- Acupuncture can lead to pain relief as it stimulates the points or nerves that are situated in the tissues and muscles. This treatment also releases endorphins and other chemicals, while changing the way the brain processes pain.
- Inflammation has been linked with migraine pain, but studies have shown that acupuncture can decrease inflammation. The treatment also helps to promote the release of immunomodulatory and vascular factors that play an essential role in countering inflammation.
- Another study found that acupuncture treatment decreases cortical spreading depression, which is the electric wave present in the brain that has been linked to migraine pain.
- Acupuncture has also been found to reduce the plasma levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance, which are neuropeptides that signal pain that might be implicated in migraine pathophysiology.
- A study has also indicated that acupuncture modulates the intracranial and extracranial blood flow. While these cranial blood flow changes might not be the cause of migraines, but they have been found to contribute towards pain.
- Acupuncture has also been found to affect the levels of serotonin in the brain, which might be linked to the start of a migraine, as well as linked with relieving acute attacks with the assistance of triptans, which are drugs that increase serotonin levels.
- Another study found that acupuncture treatments help enhance local microcirculation, which helps to reduce swelling.
These research-backed reasons show that acupuncture can be effective for treating migraine pain, as well as other types of headaches.
When to Seek Medical Attention
It is essential to keep in mind that certain headaches might need instant medical attention.
In the cases of nausea, dizziness, or loss of vision, you must consult your doctor immediately. If the headache is caused by a head injury, and gets worse with time, this is also an indication that you need emergency medical treatment.
Some migraine headaches can be because of underlying factors, for instance, an allergic reaction, or increase in blood pressure, which must be diagnosed to get proper treatment. Make sure you inform your doctor about the acupuncture treatment you received for your migraine before they formulate a treatment plan.
At Alliance Orthopedics, we take a multidisciplinary approach to health and wellness and will often recommend acupuncture in tandem with chiropractic care, functional medicine or physical therapy. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you with your wellness goals, we encourage you to make an appointment today. Visit our Alliance Orthopedics website for details on specific hours and locations for our Old Bridge, Freehold and Matawan centers.