Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicinal technique that involves inserting tiny needles into certain pressure points spread across the body. The treatment is widely used by people seeking relief from the debilitating and distressing pain of migraine headaches.

Energy, zones and nerves

The basic principles of acupuncture divide the body into a series of zones. These zones include specific pressure points into which the needles are inserted. Which pressure points are used depends on the exact condition being treated, but the aim is to rid the body of negative energy and introduce positive energy instead. Acupuncture for migraine relief (as well as relief from tension and cluster headaches) uses various different pressure points.

From a purely scientific perspective, pressure points are situated very close to nerve endings. When the needles are inserted, the nerves are stimulated and release a variety of hormones. These hormones include endorphins, which have pain-relieving properties. Moreover, this hormonal release has a positive effect on circulation and the immune system.

All of this equates to a pain-relieving response, which is thought to be why acupuncture helps migraine sufferers. Migraine headaches are notoriously difficult to treat and often require heavy-duty medications, including NSAID painkillers or even triptans. Since professionally performed acupuncture is extremely safe and carries virtually no side effects, it represents an increasingly popular alternative to potent medications. Migraines that are particularly long in duration can require large quantities of medication, so a more gentle intervention like acupuncture is most welcome.

Acupuncture for migraine relief in the long term

Some studies indicate that acupuncture for migraine relief is especially beneficial for those who suffer from chronic and recurrent migraines. The causes of migraines are poorly understood but seem linked to unusual electrical behaviour in the brain. That behaviour affects the blood vessels and causes inflammation. Some people who suffer regularly are prescribed invasive prophylactic therapy and even beta blockers. These come with a range of side effects, but recent studies have indicated that acupuncture can be just as effective.

The idea that acupuncture can be used as prevention as well as cure is quite new, but it’s backed by burgeoning science. It’s thought that acupuncture prevents migraines via a number of means. Acupuncture treatment hinders the spread of electrical waves through the brain, which is a leading cause of migraines. This can radically reduce the severity and frequency of attacks. Moreover, acupuncture can moderate both intracranial and extracranial blood flow. It also modulates serotonin, which may be one of the initiating factors of a migraine attack. Migraine is so difficult to treat because it can be triggered by so many different factors. Acupuncture has an exceptionally varied efficacy, which makes it a useful treatment for this multifaceted condition.

Much debate surrounds how often one would require acupuncture as a preventive measure, but it is believed that the treatment would be needed at least twice a week, followed by weekly maintenance sessions. It certainly isn’t a one-off intervention, but it could represent a long-term solution. Acupuncture has the very real potential to improve the quality of life of migraine sufferers without the range of unpleasant side effects associated with more potent interventions.