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Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine for Cluster Headaches and Migraines pain relief

Cluster Headaches and Migraines Acupuncture

How can acupuncture help?

For thousands of years, acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicines have been used to relieve headaches and migraines, as well as their underlying causes. Researchers recently discovered that, compared to standard Western medical care, acupuncture can provide lasting relief from chronic headache pain.

Jo George Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner
Jo George
MBAc; MSc CHM; BSc (Hons)
Traditional Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner

Fully insured Member of The British Acupuncture Council and Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine.

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There have now been many controlled trials of acupuncture for migraine, with some large, high-quality ones in recent years. The results of the latest reviews are quite consistent: acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment/basic care for managing migraine, and appears to be at least as effective as drug therapy, with few contraindications or unpleasant side effects.

The great strength of Chinese medicine, however, is that a symptom by itself, however well differentiated, does not point automatically to a diagnosis and treatment, and ten patients with identical symptoms (a headache) from a western point of view may have ten different diagnoses and treatments from a Chinese perspective.

Acupuncture Treatments are often tailored to the specific constitutional balances of the individual patients. This means that the health of the patient in other areas like digestion, sleep, anxiety and stress improves as the constitutional of the whole patient is treated. The skill of the practitioner lies in knowing how a symptom relates to and derives from the overall pattern of balance.

How is it used?

It is used as a prevention and can be used to alleviate symptoms in acute attacks.

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How does it work?

This is difficult to explain without getting technical, but Migraine is thought to begin as an electrical phenomenon in the cerebrum that then affects blood vessels, biochemistry, and causes neurogenic inflammation.

More technically Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine by:

  • Providing pain relief - by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurochumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Reducing inflammation - by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.
  • Reducing the degree of cortical spreading depression (an electrical wave in the brain associated with migraine)
  • Modulating extracranial and intracranial blood flow.
  • Affecting serotonin (5-hydroxytriptamine) levels in the brain. (Serotonin may be linked to the initiation of migraines)

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How many treatments?

Looking at the recent successfully trials where acupuncture was found to be effective for managing migraine and headaches by the Cochrane review and NICE guidelines, these involved at least 10 treatment sessions. This is a good starting point to access the treatment fairly. Jo reviews progress after four or five sessions and then discusses what has happened and agrees with the patient how to proceed.

There are occasions when treatment can take a long time to achieve change, but even when the symptom does not shift Jo can often tell from her diagnostic work that there is progress and change will happen.

Generally, to be most effective, acupuncture treatments are used in combination with Chinese herbs, to restore imbalances found in the body. The specific treatment recommended to treat your headache or migraine may depend on a number of factors.

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