According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four stages to migraine headaches.
- Prodrome: About 24 to 48 hours before an episode the person may experience symptoms such as neck stiffness, mood changes, frequent yawning, constipation, increased urination, and food cravings.
- Aura: These symptoms stem from changes in the nervous system and may include visual changes, vision loss, pins and needles in extremities, unilateral numbness or weakness of the face or body, and the individual can have difficulty speaking.
- Attack: This is when the symptoms of pain, nausea, etc. described above take place.
- Post-drome: I have had clients describe this as a "migraine hangover." Symptoms include feeling wiped out and experiencing pain with sudden head movements.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from migraines, three times more likely in fact. Approximately 10% of the world's population suffers from migraine headaches.
There is no cure and exactly what causes them is still a mystery. Triggers that can cause an attack vary from person to person so most people that suffer from migraines are encouraged to keep a journal to figure out what their specific triggers may be. Treatment is focused on decreasing both the frequency and intensity of occurrences.
Acupuncture can help in both decreasing the number of episodes and the intensity experienced during a migraine. Traditional Chinese medicine addresses the body from a holistic perspective. Qi, defined as the life force of living creatures, circulates through the body in a system of meridians that can be affected by inserting small, stainless steel needles into the skin. Many of these meridians end or begin on the head. Pain, as defined by Chinese medicine, occurs when the circulation of qi and blood are compromised and do not move through the body properly.
Acupuncture stimulates the movement of qi and blood through the meridians, thus relieving the pain and other symptoms related to migraines. In addition, over time, acupuncture also addresses the underlying imbalances in physiology that are at the root cause of the migraines.
What do the scientific studies say about treating migraines with acupuncture? A Cochrane Library systematic review that was published in 2016 and included 22 clinical trials and 4,895 participants concluded, "Acupuncture reduced migraine frequency significantly more than drug prophylaxis after treatment."
In addition, an article published in 2012 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which included the analysis of multiple controlled studies, concluded, "A sound body of evidence exists supporting the use of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Acupuncture is at least as effective as prophylactic drug therapy for migraine and it is safe, long-lasting and cost-effective. Although there seems to be little difference between the two, Chinese acupuncture points might be marginally more effective than non-Chinese points."
To learn more about traditional Chinese medicine, the University of Michigan offers a good overview, and the University of Minnesota details how organ systems work according to Chinese medicine.
If you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you or a loved one struggling with migraines, please contact me.
Jamie Jolley is the solo practitioner at Balance Studio in Denver.