Acupuncture for Headaches

Migraines and headaches

Migraines and headaches are among the most common reasons people come to see an acupuncturist. There is wide variety in how head pain can be felt – from a headache that is a mild annoyance when you’re trying to concentrate on work, to debilitating migraines that can last days at a time. Chronic migraines can then cause their own set of flow on effects, like depression, fatigue, reliance on painkillers, having to take time away from work or social situations and diminished quality of life. But acupuncture may be able to offer some help.

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

Headaches are one of the most common experiences we all have, with most people experiencing one from time to time. The most common types of headache are:

  • Tension headaches – The most common form of headache, and one that most people working at a desk are familiar with. The pain will often start at the back of the head and spread around to the front. They can be caused by poor posture, eyestrain or stress, and can become chronic.

  • Cluster headaches – these headaches can be very painful, and will occur in “clusters”, meaning they will often happen at the same time of the day, sometimes for long periods.

  • Sinus headaches – these are caused by swelling in the sinus passages, so will often accompany a head cold or seasonal allergies. The pain is located at the front of the head, and behind the cheeks, nose and eyes.

Migraines, on the other hand, are more than just a headache. A migraine is a neurological disorder that can be very distressing and disabling, with the pain being only one component. And occasionally migraines can even present without any headache at all. A migraine can be identified by:

  • Moderate to severe pain that is usually one sided
  • The pain can be throbbing, and is aggravated by movement
  • There is often nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise
  • Other symptoms may include – sensitivity to smell, auras (visual disturbance), difficulty in concentration and confusion, problems with co-ordination, or stiffness of the neck and shoulders

There are 4 stages to a migraine:

  1. Prodrome – this is the pre-headache, and has usually painless symptoms such as mood swings, food cravings, or stiffness of the neck

  2. Aura – the sensory disturbance stage, where you may get blurred vision, blind spots, slurred speech, or numbness in the arm

  3. Headache – this is the stage where the pain hits, and can be from mild to debilitating. Most people are more comfortable laying down in a cool, dark room during this stage, as light and physical movement may make it feel worse.

  4. Postdrome – this is after the pain has gone down, and you may feel exhausted, confused, or just generally unwell.  

Can acupuncture help with headaches and migraines?

Yes, acupuncture can help to relieve both headaches and migraines. It has been shown through recent research to be effective in helping to reduce the frequency of headaches and migraines, and when they do come on, it helps to reduce the severity and duration of them. It has been found to be at least as effective as conventional preventative medication for migraines, and is safe, long lasting and cost-effective.

What is an acupuncture treatment for headaches and migraines like?

As there are many causes of headaches and migraines, I will take a complete history to determine the causes and aggravating factors that are unique to you. This includes looking at your home and work life, posture, diet, exercise, and sleep routines. If you have had any blood tests or other relevant testing, feel free to bring these along to your first appointment.

The initial appointment will take about an hour, and after we have had a discussion of how the headaches and migraines present for you, I will have you lie comfortably on the massage table for 20-30 minutes while I put needles in. I use ultra fine needles that are able to be inserted painlessly, and the majority of the acupuncture points I use are away from the head, so there is reduced risk of setting off a headache, or making one worse if you have one when you come in. 

How long will it take to see results?

It can be really hard to predict before I’ve met with you how long it may take to start reducing migraine frequency and severity, though the aim is for you to start feeling some improvement after the first 1 or 2 appointments.