Acupuncture & Herbs for Migraines

Migraines suck.  Image credit sashawolff.
Of all the different kinds of headaches that exist, the one with the worst reputation is the migraine. More than a headache behind the eyes, sufferers must also often struggle with nausea, light sensitivity (photophobia), sound sensitivity, or dizziness. People who get them often quickly learn to identify and avoid or monitor their triggers – whether that be stressful situations, certain foods or caffeine, weather changes, or even simple smells. Typical treatment for migraine is to avoid these triggers as much as possible, and to take medications.

Unlike the common tension headaches, migraines are the result of problems with the vascular system, though the mechanism still isn’t well known. This is why common treatment for migraines remains interventive or abortive – in Western medicine there isn’t really a ‘cure’ or something to do to truly fix the problem outside of limiting your lifestyle. This is where acupuncture comes into play.

Acupuncture can help with migraines because the insertion of a needle alters the body’s blood circulation – blood flow is redirected more toward where the needle is. This makes acupuncture a good treatment during a migraine, to help shorten the length of the pain, reduce its severity, or treat secondary symptoms like nausea or light sensitivity. Also, over time acupuncture helps to adjust the body’s internal biochemistry so that migraines become less likely, as the body becomes less sensitive to its migraine triggers. Research shows that acupuncture is at least as effective as current drugs for migraines, if not more effective. Plus, while coming off of migraine medication can lead to rebound headaches, acupuncture has no such effect.

Don’t Forget About Herbs
Herbal medication can also help with migraines. Unlike acupuncture, herbs can be taken daily as a preventive, corrective, and abortive treatment – making them good not just to interrupt migraines but also address the body’s responses to triggers. Common Western herbs used in the treatment of migraines include butterbur and feverfew. These herbs work for some people, and if that’s you, great! But for many these herbs are not entirely effective. Both have a scattering quality that can make a person light-headed if not balanced with other herbs. For those who want to investigate using herbs for migraines, it is best to consult with your herbalist to ensure you’re getting a formula that is best for you.

What if I’m Pregnant?
I should also make a quick note for those who get pregnancy migraines. Both acupuncture and herbs can still be used for expecting mothers, although you’ll need to tell your acupuncturist or herbalist before getting treatment – not all points or herbal formulas are good for your baby. However, with the knowledge that you’re pregnant, treatment can be tailored to be safe and still effective.