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Does acupuncture really work for migraines?

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are a type of headache that is classified as severe throbbing pain or pulsing sensation that usually occurs on one side of the head. Oftentimes, migraines can cause other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can last for hours to days.

Some people may experience a warning symptom, also known as an aura. This includes visual disturbances, such as flashing lights or blind spots. Others can experience tingling on one side of face or arm or even experience difficulty with speaking.

Causes of Migraines

Migraines can be caused by genetics and environmental factors. 

Neurological Dysfunction: Abnormal brain activity between brainstem and interactions with trigeminal nerve 

Imbalance in neurotransmitters: changes in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline may play a role in migraine development. Serotonin is involved in blood vessel constriction and regulates pain pathways

Hormone changes: fluctuations in estrogen usually before and during menstrual periods, pregnancy and menopause. Oral contraceptives can also worsen migraines. 

Triggers: stress, certain foods, hormonal changes, sensory stimuli such as bright lights and strong odors, and sleep disturbances.

Medications do not Target the Underlying Cause of Migraines

Many people who experience migraines may rely on medications that temporarily relieve the pain such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatories (naproxen or ibuprofen). However, this does not target the physiological aspect of what causes them. Rather, they will cause unwanted side effects from long term use.

How Does Acupuncture Help with Migraines?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves placing thin needles into specific pressure points of the body that will generate healing and restore balance back to the body. This nonpharmacological intervention can treat chronic pain, especially headaches and migraine pain. 

Acupuncture can help with migraines by:

Reduces Stress: Acupuncture sessions can promote relaxation thus reducing stress (as stress is a common trigger for migraines).

Release of endorphins: Endorphin is a chemical hormone that is released from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which plays a role in relieving pain and reducing stress. Acupuncture can trigger endorphin release by placing needles onto certain acupoints on the body.

Increase parasympathetic tone: Acupuncture can play a role in regulating the autonomic system, which includes both parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) and sympathetic (“flight or fight”). This type of treatment can trigger the parasympathetic tone, which can regulate neurotransmitters (dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin), activate the brain to release said hormones, and activate nerve fibers.

a girl lying in bed unable to do anything becuase of her migraine
Can't get out of bed because of migraines?

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