Girl with intense headache or migraine

Migraines vs Headaches

Migraines are considered to be a neurological disorder characterised by a one-sided throbbing/ pulsating headache of moderate to severe intensity that can be aggravated by physical activity. Attacks can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours duration and sufferers can often experience auras, nausea and vomiting and be hypersensitive to sound, light and smell (1). A migraine with an aura is often accompanied by sensory disturbances such as blind spots, flashes of light and other visionary impairments or tingling in the hands or face (2). Headaches, by contrast are usually characterised by a tightening or pressing feeling rather than an intense throbbing sensation. Usually they are bilateral and are not associated with nausea or vomiting or aggravated by physical activity (1).

Why Acupuncture for Migraines and headaches ?

Headaches and migraines to a greater extent, can be extremely debilitating and difficult to treat. Sufferers lament that attacks can come on suddenly without warning and be extremely incapacitating. Indeed, a severe migraine can be quite disruptive to one’s quality of life making it difficult to perform normal daily activities. Whilst there are prophylactic and pain relieving medications available, they are not suitable for everyone. Also these medications are often associated with side effects such as drowsiness, fatigue and weight gain. Acupuncture offers sufferers an alternative to conventional migraine / headache treatment. Not only is it effective for the relief and prevention of these conditions (see research below) it has little or no side effects.

Migraines and Headaches : A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach (TCM)

From a TCM point of view there are various disease patterns associated with migraines and headaches. Indeed, they are thought to be caused by a multitude of factors such as external pathogens (cold, heat and dampness) or internal dysfunction (of the liver, spleen or kidney).  During the first consultation an extensive case history will be taken to ascertain the cause of your condition according to TCM.  Common migraine / headache triggers such as certain foods and drinks (eg chocolate, dairy, caffeine, alcohol) , stress, sleep deprivation and dehydration will be discussed. Also factors such as location, timing, duration and intensity are taken into account when forming a diagnosis . Once a diagnosis is determined a treatment plan is formulated. This usually involves a schedule of weekly treatments aimed specifically at reducing the incidence, severity and duration of headache/migraine symptoms .

Current Research :  Acupuncture for the treatment of Migraines and Headaches

Current research indicates that acupuncture is an effective treatment option for migraine sufferers. In fact recent studies confirm that acupuncture is superior to sham acupuncture and as effective as conventional prophylactic medication, in lessening the incidence of migraines (3-5). Furthermore, acupuncture is described as a safe, long-lasting and cost effective treatment for migraine sufferers (3).  According to the Cochrane systematic review 16 or more treatments are recommended for optimal results (4).

 With regard to acupuncture treatment for the treatment of headaches, there is also research to confirm its efficacy. Linde, K et al confirm it to be beneficial for frequent episodic and chronic tension-type headaches (6 ). Likewise  Coeytaux R, et al  explain that it has the potential to play a key role in treating tension-type headaches and several different types of chronic headache disorders (7).




3 Da Silva AN. Acupuncture for migraine prevention. Headache. 2015 Mar;55(3):470-3.

4 Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Vertosick EA, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016(6):Cd001218.

5 Yang Y, Que Q, Ye X, Zheng G. Verum versus sham manual acupuncture for migraine: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Acupunct Med. 2016 Apr;34(2):76-83.

6 Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin BC, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;4:Cd007587.

7 Coeytaux RR, Befus D. Role of Acupuncture in the Treatment or Prevention of Migraine, Tension-Type Headache, or Chronic Headache Disorders. Headache. 2016 Jul;56(7):1238-40.