Many of my patients have migraines or chronic headaches.In general, patients fall into two different groups.In the first group there is clear evidence of muscle tension in the upper back and neck that is either triggering or exacerbating the headaches.The second group of patients have symptoms of “organ disharmonies”, which is a way of diagnosing illness in traditional Chinese medicine.Their headaches are often exacerbated by stress or, if they are female, influenced by their menstrual cycle.These patients usually have a constellation of other symptoms, often related to mood, digestion, and sleep.
I tell new patients to expect to see changes within the first two to three acupuncture treatments.Some of my patients have had their headaches completely disappear.For others, acupuncture decreases the severity and frequency of headaches to a point that they are better able to identify their triggers (weather, food, emotions, allergies, physical activity, chemicals, etc.) and take preventive action.
How does acupuncture work for migraine and chronic headache?
The mechanisms of acupuncture are not fully understood, and research is ongoing. A large scale meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 demonstrated that acupuncture is more effective than usual care for chronic headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis. You can read the entire study here.
My favorite self-care resources
While I do not prescribe nutritional supplements, many of my headache patients have found adding a magnesium supplement to be helpful.Magnesium deficiency may be more prevalent in migraine patients.I like the product Natural Calm.Inexpensive pill forms of magnesium will often cause a loose stool, but Natural Calm comes as a powder that is mixed into water.Patients can determine what dosage works best for them.If you are on any medications, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding a supplement.
Acupressure points can often be quite helpful for headaches.Just like acupuncture, the effects of acupressure are cumulative, and is best performed once or twice a day, every day.After an initial assessment, I often give patients some suggestions like the ones below:
Strong pressure on either side of the thoracic spine, slowly moving from T1 to T12. I like to use the Yoga Tuneup Balls for this exercise.
For headaches from an underlying organ disharmony:
Note: these suggestions can be used for prevention, or if a migraine has just started.
Soak the feet in either very warm or cool water (trust your judgement–you’ll know which one is right for you), while doing the acupressure.The idea is you are trying to pull the qi down from the head and into the feet.Adding a warm or cool compress on the forehead or back of the neck can also be helpful.