If you continuously struggle with migraines or headaches, you have probably tried just about any option available to lessen the pain and relieve your symptoms.
While more traditional medicine and treatment might not be doing enough to help, more and more migraine and headache sufferers have been turning to other treatment methods, including acupuncture.
Acupuncture is known for restoring the positive energy flow within your body, which is why it can be helpful and effective in relieving pain and symptoms associated with both migraines and headaches.
Before we get further into how acupuncture can help with headache or migraine symptoms, let’s take a quick minute to go over what is acupuncture. . . .
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been around for centuries and was developed in East Asia as a method of treating pain and discomfort in the body. During an acupuncture treatment, a licensed practitioner places needles into areas of the body, which are chosen specifically to alleviate certain types of pain. The points are often times where nerves are, and by stimulating these nerves, your body will release endorphins to lower pain levels and frequency for your headaches or migraines.
Want to know in-depth information on acupuncture as a treatment? And what else can it treat outside of migraines and headaches? Check out our guide.
Now that we have an idea of what acupuncture is let’s get an overview of headaches and migraines. . .
What are Migraines and Headaches?
If a person is experiencing head pain, they can often be heard saying, ‘I have a headache?’
And they are right.
Headache pain in the head. But where, how often, and why is how a headache can be called or classified into different names.
For example, you know that there are 150 different types of headaches and that those 150 types are either classified as either being a primary headache type or a secondary headache type?
A primary headache is any type of headache that cannot be connected to or have their cause attributed to another medical condition.
A secondary headache is any type of headache that can be connected to or have cause attributed to another medical condition. A secondary headache essence is a symptom of another medical condition and not a condition on its own.
A sinus headache is a great example of a secondary headache, whereas a tension-headache or a migraine are both great examples of a primary headache.
Now that we have an idea of what a headache is and that the types of headache we are exploring for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment are called primary headaches, it time to start exploring how and who acupuncture is both good and effective for headaches . . .
Is Acupuncture Good for Migraines and Headaches?
Acupuncture can be good at relieving pain that is associated with migraines and headaches by reducing the frequency and pain level that they occur.
When the needles are placed in specific pressure points for treatment, endorphins will be released, and pain can be minimized from the migraines. But how do we know that acupuncture can be effective for both migraines and headaches?
Let’s dig into the research around acupuncture for both headaches and migraines next . . .
Does it Work?
Yes, acupuncture does work for headaches!
It is effective for migraines and tension headaches, and many other types of primary headaches.
This was researched and documented in a study that was published by Albrecht Molsberger, MD, in 2012, when he studied the role of acupuncture in the treatment of migraines.
Through his study, he concluded that “On the basis of the existing evidence, acupuncture should be an option for the first-line treatment of migraine to supplement other non-pharmacological treatment options. It is at least as effective as prophylactic drug therapy, has longer-lasting effects, is safe, seems to be cost-effective, and reduces drug intake with possibly severe unwanted effects.”
In addition, a review of acupuncture its effectiveness to help reduce and prevent tension-headaches found that “. . . acupuncture is effective for treating frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches” — This is what was concluded after reviewing 11 trials and studies with a combined number of participants totaling 2,349.
It also found that acupuncture has the ability to effectively reduce headache frequency by 50%.
This shows that acupuncture can be used as a preventative measure for migraines as well as how effective acupuncture can be in treating headaches and migraines.
How Many Sessions?
The number of sessions or frequency of acupuncture treatments that are suggested for you may be different depending on your particular symptoms, level of pain intensity, and other holistic factors that are considered by the acupuncturist when creating your treatment plan.
How Often do you Need Acupuncture for Migraines and Headaches?
To actively treat migraines and to lessen the frequency that they occur, it is some acupuncture practitioners have been known to recommend at least six sessions of acupuncture, with usually one or two sessions each week.
This all depends on each individual and how many sessions their licensed practitioner recommends for their specific needs.
The greater your symptoms are, the more sessions you may need for the treatment to become effective.
Always check with the acupuncturist treating your headache and migraine symptoms.
Where do Acupuncture Needles go for Headaches Migraines?
For migraines, acupuncture needles have to be inserted by a licensed practitioner in specific pressure points that will help to lessen the pain and symptoms of migraines.
These pressure points are usually located in the patient’s back or neck, where the pain transmission can be lessened the most effectively.
The needles may also be placed in their arms, legs, head, or face. They are left in their position for several minutes before being removed.
Why so many different locations?
Because acupuncture is a treatment that is personalized when done by an acupuncturist, and an acupuncturist does not only look at the symptoms around your migraine but many other holistic factors that may be causing either headache or migraine symptoms that are being experienced.
So what acupuncture points are most likely to be used when you go to get acupuncture for migraines or headaches?
5 Acupuncture Points Often used for Migraines and Headaches
According to a study on acupuncture for chronic migraines, depending on the type of headache or migraine you are seeking treatment for, you the following acupuncture points may be used for either headaches or migraines:
- GV20 (Baihui)
- GV24 (Shenting)
- Bilateral GB13 (Benshen)
- bilateral GB8 (Shuaigu)
- and Bilateral GB20 (Fengchi)
In addition to these five acupuncture points,
The following combination of acupuncture meridians and points may be added to the five listed during an acupuncture treatment session for headaches or migraines:
- Shaoyang headache (TE-GB)
- Yangming headache (LI-ST)
- Taiyang headache (SI-BL)
- Jueyin headache (PC-LR)
8 Additional Acupuncture Points:
- TE5 (Waiguan)
- GB34 (Yanglingquan)
- LI4 (Hegu)
- ST44 (Neiting)
- BL60 (Kunlun)
- SI3 (Houxi)
- LR3 (Taichong)
- GB40 (Qiuxu)
Can Acupuncture Make Migraines Worse?
Acupuncture has not been shown to make migraines worse. It is usually an effective treatment for migraine prevention, pain, and symptoms.
Acupuncture or Medication for Migraines?
Acupuncture can be a great alternative for the treatment of migraines, rather than using medication.
Some people do not want the possible side effects and feelings that they get from taking medications.
Acupuncture has been shown through research to be as effective as medications, is safe when performed by a licensed practitioner when treating migraines, can be more cost-effective than medications, and its effects are longer lasting than medications.
How do we know this to be true? A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (JNNP) focused on discovering if acupuncture versus medical treatment for migraine and muscle tension headaches. What it found was that out of 41 study participants, 24 experienced significant improvement of both the intensity and symptoms of their migraines.
That is, over half of its participants experiencing the benefits of acupuncture for relieving their migraine symptoms without the use of medication.
There are many complementary and alternative therapies that may help with headaches and migraines, including:
- Guided imagery and visualization
- Massage Therapy
- Yoga Therapy
- Craniosacral Therapy
Before getting started with acupuncture for XXX, be sure to talk with your physician or medical professional about getting a proper medical diagnosis and what treatment recommendations are appropriate for your condition.
Work with a professional acupuncturist in your area to determine how acupuncture may best help you and the frequency of treatment that’s right for you.
Headaches: In Depth. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/headaches-in-depth
Headache Information Page. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/all-disorders/Headache-Information-Page
Liu, L., Zhao, L. P., Zhang, C. S., Zeng, L., Wang, K., Zhao, J., Wang, L., Jing, X., … Li, B. (2018). Acupuncture as prophylaxis for chronic migraine: a protocol for a single-blinded, double-dummy randomised controlled trial. BMJ open, 8(5), e020653. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020653. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5988062/
Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Shin, B. C., Vickers, A., … White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 4, CD007587. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007587.pub2. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4955729/
Molsberger, A. (2012). The role of acupuncture in the treatment of migraine. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 184(4), 391-2. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3291665/
Whyte, C. A., & Tepper, S. J. (2009). Adverse effects of medications commonly used in the treatment of migraine. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 9(9), 1379-1391. doi:10.1586/ern.09.47. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1027772/