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Is Acupuncture Effective for Migraines?

Posted in Acupuncture, Migraines

Migraine pain is a debilitating form of pain that can be overwhelming for sufferers. Many individuals who experience migraines have learned to cope with this excruciating pain. Exploring alternative methods for migraine relief, acupuncture comes to mind as a potential solution. In this article, we will delve into whether acupuncture is an effective treatment for migraines.

Acupuncture Treatment for Migraines: What You Need to Know

Acupuncture is a complementary or alternative medicine rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. This pain treatment involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body known as “acupuncture points.” These needles are delicately manipulated to stimulate these points.

Acupuncture Treatment for Preventing Migraines Between Attacks

For those considering acupuncture to prevent migraines between migraine attacks, it is crucial to consult with an acupuncturist who can distinguish between preventive and acute treatment. This approach typically involves receiving Standard Electroacupuncture Stimulation (SES) for migraine prevention.

During SES treatment, patients are seated, and fine acupuncture needles are gently inserted into the skin, usually on the lower legs or forearms. The needles are manipulated with a back-and-forth motion, synchronized with the patient’s exhalation.

Acupuncture Treatment for Migraines During Attacks

When opting for acupuncture to treat migraines during an active attack, a different approach is taken. Fine needles are inserted into selected acupuncture points throughout the body, and they are gently manipulated with a similar back-and-forth motion. This manipulation helps dilate blood vessels around the needles, promoting improved blood circulation throughout the body’s tissues.

In some cases, acupuncturists may insert needles in the neck or head area because migraine pain is often associated with the dilation of blood vessels in the head. While this may temporarily worsen the pain, the acupuncturist may subsequently target acupuncture points on the arms and legs to alleviate it.

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Research conducted in Great Britain on the use of acupuncture for migraines has shown promising results. Patients who received acupuncture treatment reported experiencing less severe headaches compared to those who underwent conventional treatments. Additionally, acupuncture recipients required fewer days off work, reduced medication usage, and made fewer doctor visits.

Does Acupuncture for Migraines Hurt?

If you are a migraine sufferer considering acupuncture but have a fear of needles, here are some ways to ease your apprehension:

  1. Seek a qualified and licensed acupuncturist by asking for recommendations. Ensure they comply with local laws and regulations.
  2. Prior to scheduling an appointment, visit the acupuncturist to inquire about their use of disposable needles for treatment.
  3. Discuss alternatives with the acupuncturist if you have a needle phobia.

By taking these steps, you can address your concerns and potentially benefit from acupuncture as a migraine treatment without undue anxiety.

What is Acupuncture and the Scientific Mechanisms of Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a therapeutic technique in which practitioners insert fine needles into the skin to address various health issues. These needles can be manipulated manually or stimulated with small electrical currents, a practice known as electroacupuncture. The roots of acupuncture can be traced back at least 2,500 years, originating from traditional Chinese medicine and gaining global popularity since the 1970s.

Widespread Use of Acupuncture: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acupuncture is employed in 103 out of 129 countries that provided data on its usage.

In the United States, data from the National Health Interview Survey reveals a 50 percent increase in acupuncture utilization between 2002 and 2012. In 2012, the most recent year with available statistics, 6.4 percent of U.S. adults reported having used acupuncture, with 1.7 percent reporting usage within the past 12 months.

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Applications of Acupuncture: Acupuncture finds its most common application in the United States for the management of pain, such as back pain, joint pain, or neck pain.

Scientific Mechanisms of Acupuncture: The scientific mechanisms underlying acupuncture are not entirely understood, but there is evidence suggesting that acupuncture may impact the nervous system, affect various body tissues, and involve nonspecific (placebo) effects.

  • Nervous System Effects: Studies conducted in animals and humans, including brain imaging studies, have indicated that acupuncture can influence nervous system function.
  • Direct Tissue Effects: Acupuncture may exert direct effects on the tissues where needles are inserted, particularly in connective tissue.
  • Nonspecific Effects: These are effects that occur due to aspects of a treatment unrelated to its primary mechanism of action. Nonspecific effects may result from patient belief in the treatment, the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, or other factors not directly linked to needle insertion. In numerous studies, the benefits of acupuncture have been more pronounced when compared to no treatment rather than sham (simulated or fake) acupuncture procedures, suggesting that nonspecific effects contribute to the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture on pain and other symptoms. Recent research has demonstrated nonspecific effects in a unique manner: patients who previously experienced pain relief during acupuncture were shown a video of their treatment session and asked to imagine the treatment happening again, resulting in significant pain relief.

Research on Acupuncture for Pain: Research has shown that acupuncture may offer relief for various pain conditions, including back or neck pain, knee pain associated with osteoarthritis, and postoperative pain. It has also demonstrated potential in alleviating joint pain related to the use of aromatase inhibitors, drugs used in breast cancer treatment.

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An analysis of data from 20 studies, involving 6,376 participants with painful conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, or headaches, indicated that the beneficial effects of acupuncture persisted for up to a year after treatment completion for all conditions except neck pain.


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