Acupuncture can help reduce acute symptoms of migraine as well as prevent relapses. Migraine affects close to 15% of the population and causes debilitating headaches that greatly interfere with quality of life! Migraine headaches can present with or without aura’s. Symptoms include one-sided muscle weakness, numbness, unusual sensations, visual changes, nausea, vomiting and many others.
Mechanisms of Migraine Headaches (1):
- Genetic predisposition
- Neuron hyper-excitability
- Dilation of intracranial blood vessels
A recent clinical trial (2) reports acute improvement after ONE acupuncture session. The researchers examined over 200 patients with migraines and compared the effect of headache focused acupuncture to sham. Sham acupuncture is equivalent to the sugar pill used as placebo in drug studies. In this case, the needles are inserted into non-acupuncture points for the same duration as the active treatment. Unfortunately it is not possible to “blind” the acupuncturists, as they are aware of the correct anatomical locations for the points.
Active treatment includes local head and neck points as well as distal hand and leg ones. The needles stay in place for 30 minutes. In the mean time the patient relaxes on the table in a quiet environment.
Pain relief occurs within 24 hours with significant improvement in the acupuncture group compared to placebo (p<0.05). In fact, 60% of the treatment group experience more than 50% improvement in severity of headache and close to 10% had complete resolution. These improvements occurred within 4 hours of therapy.
Control trial on prophylaxis reports improvement in participants with migraine without aura. This is new, as previous studies on patients experiencing aura reported not improvement. The two forms of headaches may have distinct mechanisms that are addressed differently by acupuncture, or require different acupuncture protocols. In this 2017 study (3) participants received 20 sessions of acupuncture over the course of 4 weeks (5 days per week). They were followed up for 24 weeks after the last session. The frequency of headaches went down significantly (p<0.05) in the acupuncture group compared to sham and “wait-listed” control groups. Most noteworthy is that this improvement was maintained for the 24 weeks that followed.
In conclusion, acupuncture is effective for both acute and long-term management of migraine headaches.
Additional Naturopathic Treatments
Additional naturopathic options include coenzyme Q10, Petasites, magnesium, melatonin and many others. From a naturopathic stand point, migraine prevention means making small but significant lifestyle changes. This includes revising the diet to avoid trigger foods, exploring the role of food intolerance as well as developing realistic and sustainable exercise protocols. Another approach includes nutraceutical and botanical treatments. It will be examined in another post. Stay tuned!
For more information on Naturopathic Medicine please click HERE.
1.) Burstein R. Migraine: multiple processes, complex pathophysiology. The J of Neuroscience. 2015; 35(17): 6619-6629
2.) Ying L. Acupuncture for treating acute attacks of migraine: a randomized controlled trial. Headache. 2009; 49(6): 805-12
3.) Zhao L. The long term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis a randomized clinical tria. JAMA Intern Med. 2017.