Are migraine headaches just “bad headaches?”
Migraine headaches live up to their reputation as a unique type of headache. These headaches are an intense and debilitating neurological condition with significant impact on a person’s health and quality of life.
Self-reported prevalence of migraines and severe headaches is estimated to be 15.3% among adults in the US, approximately 1 in every 6 people. They often run in families and can affect all ages, with roughly 3 times the prevalence in women than men. The common pattern indicates onset in late childhood, increasing from puberty to around until the mid to late 30s, then decreasing later in life, especially after menopause.
Far more debilitating than tension-type headaches, 80% of adults with migraines experience disabling symptoms affecting productivity and lost time from work. Moreover, migraine pain is in the top five most common reasons for emergency visits annually.
Why seek acupuncture therapy for migraines?
Migraine headaches are a complex condition that are difficult to treat. It’s not uncommon for patients to try multiple treatment options, looking for one that will help “crack the code.” Some sufferers explore a variety of therapies as an alternative to relying solely on prescription medications.
A large number of research studies resoundly demonstrate that acupuncture is highly efficacious and should be a frontline therapy in the quest for migraine relief.
Acupuncture has the same or greater efficacy than pharmaceutical drugs with less side effects. Acupuncture treatments are safe, have lasting effects, and are a cost-effective approach. What’s more, they complement other therapies, creating a synergistic effect.
What is a migraine headache?
Migraine headaches are often mistaken for common chronic tension-type headaches.
Correctly differentiating between headaches and types of migraine headache can lead to faster, more effective outcomes, both in the clinic and self-care.
- Migraine phases:
- An episode may occur in four distinct phases, though not everyone experiences every phase.
• Pre-headache (prodrome) phase – non painful symptoms, such as mood changes, difficulty focusing, fatigue, nausea and muscle stiffness, in the hours or days preceding the headache.
• Aura phase – Sensory disturbances that may cause numbness or tingling starting in the arm and radiating to the face and/or difficulty thinking, speaking, writing and cognitive understanding.
• Headache phase – Includes a combination of symptoms listed below. Does not always include headache pain.
• Postdrome phase – Can last for a few hours to several days in which the person feels unwell, fatigued or confused.
Migraines are characterized by:
- Recurring episodes or attacks with similar a pattern of symptoms
- Moderate to severe pain
- Intense, throbbing, pulsating, and/or pounding or a dull, steady sensation
- Duration of a few hours to multiple days
- Primary focal points include the forehead, face, and upper neck
- Often unilateral, but can affect both sides or may shift sides.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds
- Debilitating to the point of necessitating resting in a dark room with minimal stimuli
- Physical activity may aggravate the pain
What causes migraines?
While the exact cause of migraines are unknown, reliable data indicates the influence of genetic mutations on abnormal brain functioning which affects nerve signaling. As as result, your genes make it more likely you will experience a migraine attack as a result of a specific trigger.
Triggers vary from person to person. A diary is a useful tool to determine if a consistent trigger can be identified.
- Changes in weather
- Hormone fluctuations
- Specific foods
- Hunger, including skipping meals
- Excess or insufficient sleep
- Alcohol consumption
- Anxiety or depression
What to expect from acupuncture treatment for migraines
While there is no cure for migraine pain, acupuncture provides a promising and effective therapeutic approach.
Acupuncture treatment goals are two-fold:
- Address symptoms during an attack
- Treat underlying imbalances and restore the body to a balanced state between episodes in order to prevent or reduce attacks.
As customary with Chinese Medicine, assessments and treatments are individualized to each person. Your acupuncture pain specialist will assess your health history, pattern of symptoms, tongue and pulse, Chinese Medicine organ system patterns, and biomedical migraine physiology to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan unique to you.
A combination of treatment modalities will be used as part of your treatment prescription:
- Hair-thin needles placed at various places on the body
- Cupping and gua sha manual therapies
- Chinese therapeutic massage
- Chinese herbal medicine prescription
- Lifestyle recommendations to help with prevention
Treatment frequency is based on the severity, length of time from onset, and frequency of attacks. We recommended starting with a series of 10 sessions, either 1 or 2 times a week to shift the body’s response. After this initial treatment series, your practitioner will reassess to determine if sufficient traction has been achieved necessitating a change of frequency. Eventually, a frequency of once a month is enough to maintain a steady state of equilibrium.
It’s worth noting that a small percentage of migraine sufferers do not respond to acupuncture therapy. There is no way to determine who this applies to without giving it a try. Your practitioner will have a greater insight as to how your body will respond after 4-6 treatments.
Your practitioner is also able to work in tandem with your neurologist and other health professionals to support coordination of care.
When to seek acupuncture care for migraines
Key signs you should pursue acupuncture for migraine pain relief:
- You are tired of your migraines having a hold over your life and want your quality of life back.
- Other therapies are not working and you want to explore other options.
- You are looking for something beyond pharmaceutical medications.
- You want a safe complementary medical therapy that strengthens your body’s own natural resources.
- You want to reduce the severity and frequency of your migraine pain.
You don’t have to live with migraine pain!
Let the acupuncture specialists at Lokahi help you gain an advantage over your migraine pain. Call today for a consultation or schedule an initial treatment
Some migraine symptoms require immediate medical care, especially if a prior relationship has not been established with a neurologist or headache specialist. We recommend you seek medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Unrelenting nausea and vomiting
- Vision problems
- Tingling or numbness in the limbs, face, neck, or head
- Difficulty speaking or understanding what other people say
- Difficulty thinking
- Difficulty moving one side of the body