Acupuncture excels at alleviating pain. So it’s no surprise that it can relieve migraines and other types of headaches. The American Headache Society published a review concluding that “Acupuncture seems to be at least as effective as conventional drug preventative therapy for migraine and is safe, long-lasting, and cost-effective.”1 Reduced reliance on medication is expected during acupuncture treatment.2
What’s happening in the brain?
Recent neural research is providing insight into what happens when tiny acupuncture needles are inserted into strategic acupoints on the head and body:
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that migraine without aura patients had “significantly decreased functional connectivity in certain brain regions within the frontal and temporal lobe when compared with healthy controls.” After acupuncture treatment, “brain regions showing decreased functional connectivity revealed significant reduction” compared to before acupuncture treatment. This means that acupuncture could prevent and relieve migraines by restoring normal brain functions in migraine without aura patients.3 In this study, acupuncture treatment was given five times a week for four weeks.4
How soon can one feel relief?
Acupuncture can be effective in reducing or eliminating pain from migraines and headaches in just a few, closely-spaced treatments. Wang et al. 2015 recommends treating frequent migraine sufferers twice per week for at least eight weeks.2 In my clinical experience, clients felt some relief with as little as one treatment with a noticeable decrease in migraine intensity and/or “no major migraine” after three treatments spaced one to two weeks apart. This meant that clients were not waking up with a headache, using less medication, and describing migraines as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it was a main complaint just one month prior.
Stress and sometimes diet can be a contributor to headaches. After some nutritional recommendations, a client reported “I think you’re onto something with regard to fast food,” since headaches were becoming less frequent and intense with dietary changes.
For how long should one receive treatment?
Relief may come relatively quickly, however, maintenance appointments are important because they can prevent migraines from recurring. The interval between maintenance appointments may vary depending on each client’s situation and preference. I recommend monthly acupuncture maintenance, or at the very least, seasonally. This is consistent with the recommendation of Wang et al. 2015, “a monthly or bimonthly interval after an initial three-month hiatus, might provide long-term prophylaxis” for patients with historically frequent migraines.
Feel the other beneficial effects
Acupuncture may not only relieve the pain of migraines but inevitably clients report other indicators of increased quality of life, such as better sleep, increased energy, suspected hormone regulation, and increased resiliency to stress.