Why Do Migraines Occur?
Our body naturally reacts in a fight-or-flight manner to stressful situations. Prolonged or frequent stress causes a chronic state of fight-or-flight reaction causing tension, upper back stiffness, headaches resulting from tension and a host of other physical and emotional ailments. In addition, other stressors such as allergens or certain foods can have similar effects.
Under conditions of chronic stress the blood vessels in the brain constrict minimizing circulation. But blood flow to the brain is essential. So the body reacts by releasing bio-chemicals that make arteries in the brain expand. These arteries are surrounded by pain sensors are then stimulated causing headache or migraine.
Migraines are actually a healing reaction on the part of the body. They often occur after a stressful situation has stopped, such as the first day of a holiday or on a weekend.
The Western Approach
Conventional allopathic medicine prescribes pain-killers for migraines. There are two problems with this approach, even though they can be effective. First, this approach does not address the root cause of migraine. Second, many medications have other damaging side effects. For example, extensive use of pain-killers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) make the eyes more sensitive to light1, 2 and more vulnerable to damaging blue and UV light from the sun. In that way they contribute to cataracts, dry eyes, macular degeneration and hemorrhages in the retina.
The Chinese Medicine Approach
Acupuncture treats migraine by increasing blood flow to other parts of the body that are tense. When overall tension is relieved the body's automatic blood vessel dilation in the brain is not needed and is reduced.
In a newly published long term study clinicians treated patients for migraine and reported long-term reduction in migraine incidence.
In a 24 week trial 245 patients who suffered from migraine without aura were treated and evaluated over a 20 week period. They were randomly assigned to a group receiving Chinese acupuncture, a group receiving 'sham' acupuncture and a group receiving no treatment. These patients had been reporting migraines from 2 to 8 times a month.
The patients received 20 treatments over 4 weeks with 20 weeks of follow-up. All of the patients, whether receiving acupuncture, sham acupuncture or no treatment recorded weekly migraine frequency and severity and medications that they took during that period.
After sixteen weeks the group receiving true acupuncture reported significantly lower rates of migraine attacks, and even the sham acupuncture group reported some benefit compared to the no-treatment group.3
But there is another significant difference between true and sham acupuncture that becomes apparent with longer term studies. Patients who receive true acupuncture find that the beneficial results continue after treatment ceases. In one study, three months after receiving sham or true acupuncture treatment those patients who'd received true Chinese acupuncture continued to report a reduction in frequency and intensity of migraines while those receiving sham acupuncture experienced a return to their previous migraine experience.4
Treating Migraine with Acupuncture
Our treatment for migraine includes stimulation of specific acupuncture points to nourish parts of the body experiencing stress or tension with blockage of flow of qi. Acupuncture treatment also gently releases endorphins and reduces inflammation leading to overall lessening of pain.
We also recommend that you:
- Get enough sleep - at least seven to eight hours a day
- Turn off your computer or smartphone at least an hour before you go to bed
- Pay attention to your fatigue level. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in your activity and not realize you are too tired until too late. For example, staying up too late can make it harder to fall asleep, even though you are very tired.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Some people get headaches from red wine.
- Reduce caffeine consumption, or favor decaffeinated coffee.
- Pay attention to which foods seem to trigger headaches - some culprits are cheese, tomatoes, dairy, chocolate, wheat or corn.
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1. Gerald Liew, PhD, et al, The Association of Aspirin Use With Age-Related Macular Degeneration; JAMA Internal Medicine, February, 2013.
2. S. Cazzaniga, L. Naldi, A pilot study on the incidence of severe photosensitivity reactions leading to hospitalization linked to topical ketoprofen and other medications in selected European regions, Pharmacology Research and Perspectives, April, 2016
3. L. Zhao, J. Chen, et al, The Long-term Effect of Acupuncture for Migraine Prophylaxis: A Randomized Clinical Trial, JAMA Internal Medicine, February, 2017.
4. Y. Li, H. Zheng, et al, Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized controlled trial, Canadian Medical Association Journal, March, 2012.