If you’re suffering from a severe migraine, chances are you wouldn’t think that inserting a whole bunch of needles in your body would make you better. That’s crazy, right?
Well—not as crazy as it sounds. It turns out that inserting tiny needles into specific nerves throughout the body can produce immense relief from migraine headaches, as well as a host of other symptoms of disease. It’s an integrative and holistic healing modality that comes from ancient Eastern approaches to medicine.
Over the past 15 years, randomized trials and research studies have determined that acupuncture results in just as effective, if not slightly better, outcomes for migraine headache prevention than traditional drug treatments.1 As an added bonus, acupuncture has almost no side effects, which is not true for many of migraine medications that produce unwanted and toxic effects in the body.
So, what exactly is acupuncture? And how does it treat migraine headaches?
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a process in which a certified practitioner inserts fine, hair-like needles into sensory nerves under the skin. It’s also called dry needling. The needles are left in these nerve points for about 20-30 minutes, and are often moved by hand or stimulated with an electrical current.
Acupuncture is old—really old. It’s an ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice that’s been around for several thousand years. In the Eastern view, acupuncture is used to make people well, as opposed to treating one specific symptom at a time. TCM looks at symptoms as an indicator that the body is out of balance. That’s why it’s considered holistic. And because it restores overall wellness, acupuncture is known to be an effective remedy for a variety of illnesses, such as pain, allergies, infertility, anxiety, and depression.
Okay, here’s the question we all want to know: Does it hurt? Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic no! You will feel contact when the needle is introduced to your skin, but a skilled acupuncturist will make the process completely painless. In fact, because the stimulation of these nerve points releases endorphins, acupuncture is a pleasant experience. You might even fall asleep during a session.
How does acupuncture treat migraines?
The Eastern view of medicine equates health with balanced energy in the body, or qi, as it’s called in TCM. Qi is seen as a vital life source that determines health. According to TCM, there are certain pathways in the body with trigger points called “meridians.” Through disease and unbalance, the qi can become blocked at these meridian points, and acupuncture is believed to “unblock” the qi and restore balance to the body.
Here’s the Western explanation of the process: As the needles make contact with specific nerves (or meridians), the stimulation travels along neurochemical pathways to the brain, which triggers the production of endorphins (hormones that the body produces as natural painkillers). This act helps balance the nervous system, the immune system, and the inflammatory process in the body. As this happens, the inflammation and pain caused by migraine headaches are offset by the restorative rebalancing and the endorphins that acupuncture releases.
For patients with chronic migraine headaches, a course of acupuncture is better than a single treatment. One study demonstrated that after three to four months patients receiving acupuncture had higher response rates and fewer headaches.2
In another research study, a group of migraine patients were treated with both traditional drug treatments and acupuncture. Of those who had the acupuncture treatments, a majority of them preferred the acupuncture treatments over the medications they took.3
Should I try acupuncture for migraines?
Many patients who have used acupuncture for migraine relief find it transformative. Acupuncture doesn’t cure migraines, and it doesn’t work for everyone. But if you have been searching for answers or want to seek healing apart from medication, acupuncture is a safe, relaxing, and potentially life-changing treatment option. It has the added benefit of not producing negative side-effects like many migraine medications, which perpetuate disease in the body.
Alleviant Health Centers is proud to offer acupuncture services at our San Diego, CA location. If you’re interested in learning more, request an appointment today!