Headaches, Meet Acupuncture

Jul 07, 2021

When some asks me, as they often do, if acupuncture works for various conditions, my answer is usually something like, “Yes, but it really depends on the specifics [of what’s going on].”  And that’s a true statement across the board.  However, when it comes to acupuncture for headaches and migraines, I typically add, “…and I’ve had a lot of success treating headaches with acupuncture.”  Of course, every headache, every migraine, every incident and every person is different, so there is never an absolute answer, however, in my decade plus of clinical experience, headaches are typically “easy” to treat with acupuncture.

One of the reasons that headaches tend to be “easier” to treat is that they often manifest as a result of something going on in a person’s life.  I once treated a woman with a prominent position in a medical institution who had been suffering with migraine headaches for over 10 years.  She had seen all the specialists and had had all of the relevant and obscure testing done at her hospital and was still unable to find relief from daily, often debilitating migraine headaches.  Truth be told, I was early in my career and a bit intimidated as to how I could help if all the medical experts were scratching their head.  During our intake interview, I took a deep breath and said, “I know you’ve probably been asked this a thousand times already, but please humor me: how much water do you drink?”  Her eyes widened and she said, “I’ve never been asked that question before.  I probably drink a cup or two each day.”  I just sat back and laughed and told her, “You don’t need me, you need to drink more water!”  Lo and behold, she immediately increased her water intake, cut processed foods out of her diet, and her migraines all but disappeared.  We continued regular acupuncture treatments with different lifestyle recommendations and within a very short time, even headaches were a thing of the past.

Obviously, it’s not always as clear-cut as in this particular case, but in my experience, acupuncture – coupled with changes in diet and lifestyle – is typically a very successful treatment for different types of migraines and headaches

A 2017 article published by the American Migraine Foundation stated the following:

Based on a recent systematic review of 22 clinical trials involving 4985 people, there is evidence that acupuncture reduces the frequency of headache in individuals with migraine, and that the effect may be similar to that observed with preventive medications. The frequency of headache is dropped by 50% or more in up to 59% of individuals receiving acupuncture and this effect can persist for more than 6 months (https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/understanding-migraineacupuncture-and-migraine-finding-a-combination-that-sticks/).

How cool is that???  But the data doesn’t stop there.  According to a 2020 review of data published in the Current Pain and Headache Reports, it states that while sample sizes and valid studies remain small, “Multiple studies support acupuncture as a validated modality for the prevention of episodic migraine” (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-020-00864-w).

And finally, just in case you haven’t been sold on acupuncture to treat your headaches yet, a systematic review of findings published in 2020 “…found high quality of evidence [indicating] that the effective rate of acupuncture was superior to western medicine in treatment of migraine…acupuncture reduced more headache days and the times of using painkiller and was more effective in reducing the frequency and degree of headache than western medicine…” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32269669/).

If you are experiencing frequent headaches, first and foremost, make sure you’re not dehydrated.  As a starting point for daily hydration, we need to be drinking about half of our body weight in ounces of water each day.  So a 150 lb person should be drinking a minimum of 75 ounces of water daily.  This needs to be increased depending on climate (desert!) and general activity level.  Start noticing when you get headaches and if they are at a certain time of the day or consistently following the eating of specific foods.  Did the headaches begin after you began taking a medication or supplement or while you were going through an emotionally trying time?  Are the headaches connected with tension in your neck or shoulders?  The American Migraine Foundation website has more great questions to explore.  Check these out in the section entitled: Five steps to prepare for a first-time visit with a headache specialist.

In conclusion, if you are reading this, it’s likely because you are considering seeking acupuncture to treat your headaches.  Yes.  It does work.  My clinical experience shows this consistently.  So does the research.  As another bonus, if your insurance covers acupuncture treatments, migraines are often a covered condition.  So everybody wins!  And remember, when you are suffering, acupuncture is a safe alternative you might not have tried.

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Many symptoms are common, but that doesn’t mean they are normal. Premenstrual agitation, not being able to fall or stay asleep, or frequent headaches, for example, are conditions with which we learn to live. We really don’t have to have to.

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