Chronic migraines can be unbearable and life altering. There’s no cure for migraines, but acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment option that has been shown to decrease the frequency of attacks and is known to reduce pain throughout the body. This post will cover:
- What makes migraines different from other types of headaches
- The research behind acupuncture’s effectiveness as a treatment for both migraines and tension headaches
- The benefits of trying acupuncture for migraine prevention and relief
What is the difference between migraines and other headaches?
A headache is pain in any part of your head, but a migraine is a specific type of headache that’s caused by abnormal brain activity and usually feels like throbbing pain, which is often only on one side of the head. About 12% of Americans suffer from migraines, and women are three times more likely to have them than men.
Migraines are different for everyone, but many people also experience nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. It’s also common to get a warning symptom called an aura, which tends to involve visual disturbances and other symptoms, as early as two days before the actual migraine attack happens.
For many people, trying to treat migraines feels like an endless loop of trial, error, and disappointment, and the only thing that seems to work is to lie in a dark room and wait for the attack to pass. Prescription drugs are helpful for some people, but many of the most effective ones come with risks and side-effects.
How acupuncture can help with migraine prevention
Evidence shows that acupuncture can help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. A 2016 review that involved 4,985 migraine sufferers found that acupuncture reduced migraine frequency by at least 50% for more than half of people who had been receiving it for three months. Recent clinical trials have yielded similar results: a long-term decrease in migraine frequency.
What about non-migraine, tension-type headaches? Acupuncture helps with them too. Actually, acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain anywhere in the body.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is a holistic treatment — it works on your whole body, which is why it’s so effective for such a wide range of conditions. But what actually happens to your body when you get acupuncture? Essentially, acupuncture kickstarts your body’s natural healing, pain-relieving, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
One of the most important things acupuncture does for migraines is that it encourages your body to release endorphins and enkephalins, which are our body’s natural pain reducers. They actually function similarly to opioid drugs but without the risk of addiction or unpleasant side-effects.
Acupuncture also decreases stress-related hormones, which is helpful because most people who deal with chronic pain (including migraines and tension headaches) find that the pain often gets worse when stress is involved. This makes acupuncture especially effective for headaches that are caused or triggered by stress.
The benefits of acupuncture for migraines
If you’re suffering from migraines, you may find that acupuncture offers some much-needed relief. It’s extremely low risk, has no drug side effects, and is completely safe to combine with all your Western medicine treatments. In fact, acupuncture actually minimizes drug side-effects, which means it typically works well in conjunction with other treatments as well as by itself.
If you’re thinking of trying acupuncture for the first time, our What to Expect page has some helpful information about what a first visit is like. Whether you’ve never tried acupuncture before or it’s been a part of your treatment plan for years, we’re here to answer all your questions and make sure you have a great experience.