Acupuncture & Migraine

» Posted in Acupuncture, Pain Research

Acupuncture & Migraine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, migraine headaches are thought to be caused by the stagnation of Qi (pronounced “chee”), or life force, leading to an upsurge of energy to the head via the meridians that travel along the side of the body. Treatment is directed towards driving the excess energy downwards, away from the head. These headaches are believed to be triggered by the emotion anger, and, interestingly, stress is recognised as a common trigger for migraines.

Acupuncture can reduce the level of pain-producing substances in the body and increase the production of natural painkillers, which may explain its action in reducing migraines. Researchers in China conducted a large study on the effects of different types of acupuncture on prevention of migraines. Three types of acupuncture and one type of sham acupuncture (needling of non-acupuncture points) were compared. Those receiving real acupuncture reported fewer and less severe migraines than the sham acupuncture group, although this difference was thought to be modest and was only detected during the third month after finishing treatment. There was no difference between the three types of real acupuncture. The authors pointed out that the type of sham acupuncture used is likely to still have some pain-killing effect.

While this study concluded that the effects of acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture were “clinically minor”, a 2009 Cochrane systematic review found that acupuncture resulted in a significant clinical benefit when compared to no treatment, and had a favourable outcome and fewer side effects when compared with standard prophylactic treatment. The authors recommended that acupuncture be offered to interested patients as a method of preventing migraine recurrence.