Migraine Relief with Acupuncture

June 20, 2016

By Cheng Wang, MD(China), PhD, L.Ac, LOM

Migraine is a recurrent neurological disorder that typically manifests as attacks of moderate to severe headaches. Commonly, the headache is unilateral (affecting one side of the head) and accompanied by nausea or vomiting as well as photosensitivity (sensitivity to light) and phonosensitivity (sensitivity to sound). Some individuals with migraine headaches experience an aura (temporary disturbance of the senses or muscles) in a few minutes before the onset of pain, while most of people with migraine experience migraines without aura. Population-based studies suggest that in America about 6% of men and 18% of women get a migraine in a given year, with a lifetime risk of about 18% and 43% respectively. Thus, migraine is a common disease around us.

Despite of the hot researches pushed into the study of migraine, the exact cause of migraine headache is unknown. Some researches suggest that inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain causes them to swell and press on nearby nerves, causing pain. Besides, genetic and environmental factors are considered to closely related with appearance of migraine. Studies of twins indicate a 34 to 51% genetic influence of likelihood to develop migraine headaches and this genetic relationship is stronger for migraines with aura than for those without aura. At the same time, studies find many triggers that cause or aggravate the headache, including stress and anxiety, changes in the weather, skipped meals, lack of sleep or too much sleep, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and so on.

Why Acupuncture is superior than typical way for treatment of migraine?

For the treatment of migraine, nowadays there are mainly two aspects: trigger avoidance and pharmacological prevention or control. Usually, medications are more preferred for its efficiency. These medications mainly refer to those analgesics (such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen) and triptans (like sumatriptan which is effective for both pain and nausea in up to 75% of people).

However, the frequent use of medications may give rise to medication overuse syndrome, in which the headaches become more severe and more frequent. In addition, some adverse effects may occur during the treatment. For instance, most of the analgesics especially aspirin often cause gastrointestinal reactions including abdominal pain, diarrhea, anorexia, or even gastrointestinal bleeding. Sumatriptan, for another example, may lead to varying degrees of intension, vertigo, drowsiness and fatigue.

Therefore, an increasing number of migraine patients are turning to a safer, more effective and drug-free way—acupuncture therapy, which has been widely and long used for preventing migraine attacks. Since 2001, German social health insurance companies have reimbursed accredited physicians who provide acupuncture treatment for chronic pain. By December 2004 more than 2 million patients had been treated with acupuncture, about a third of these had migraine headaches.

Why is acupuncture effective for migraine treatment?

Practitioners of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been helping people cope with allergy for thousands of years. The ancient theories of TCM on how allergy affects the organs are different from those of Western medicine; however, TCM theory and treatment go far beyond treating symptoms and signs.
Acupuncture and TCM are based on the concept that Qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital energy, flows through the body in channels called meridians. If Qi becomes stagnant, unbalanced or deficient, symptoms such as those of allergies can result.

What to expect in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy?

According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the brain is the focus of Yang from all meridians and collaterals, and many pathological factors (concluding Wind, Cold, Phlegm, etc.) may block the flow of Yang and disorder the operation of Qi and Blood in the brain, which may lead to the obstruction of meridians and collaterals and cause the headache.

Acupuncture therapy has its noticeable effect not only because its treatment is based on syndrome differentiation, but also because it can take one or some techniques corresponding to the relative importance or urgency of migraine, such as needling, moxibustion, blood letting puncturing, electric acupuncture and auricular needle. By these techniques, the obstruction of meridians and collaterals can be removed and the operating disorder of Qi and Blood can be adjusted. And as soon as the obstruction or imbalance is eliminated, migraine headaches disappear.

Furthermore, modern experimental studies have indicated that acupuncture may relieve cerebral vasospasm, promote blood circulation of cerebral arteries and enhance blood perfusion of brain tissues and thus ease migraine.

From the above information, it is easy to conclude that acupuncture remains to be the best choice for migraine patients for it is safe, simple, effective and lack of side-effect.

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