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Acupuncture for the Treatment of Migraine Headaches

Acupuncture for the Treatment of Migraine Headaches

Author: Dr. Kristie

If you suffer from migraine headaches, you’re in good company. Migraine headaches are thought to affect up to a quarter of the general population at some time in their lives. Migraine headaches are a common cause of lost productivity and work time and can cause significant pain and suffering. Unfortunately, the medications used in the treatment of migraine, although effective, can carry significant side effects. This makes interest in an alternative treatment for migraine quite appealing. One alternative migraine treatment that’s shown some promise is the use of acupuncture treatment carried out according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Is traditional acupuncture effective for treatment of migraine?

Although previous studies looking at acupuncture as an alternative migraine treatment have shown mixed results, a new study published in the journal Headache, suggests that traditional Chinese acupuncture may play a role in treating migraine symptoms. This study showed that patients taking the prescription drug Rizatriptan for treatment of migraine had a reduced incidence of migraine symptoms when traditional Chinese acupuncture was added to their treatment. Rizatriptan is a commonly used migraine medication that alters levels of serotonin believed to play a role in precipitating migraine symptoms. Patients who were given acupuncture for treatment of migraine were able to reduce the level of migraine medication used.

A previous study published in the British Medical Journal in 2004 also showed that acupuncture may be effective for treatment of migraine headaches. This study demonstrated that treating adults with chronic migraine headaches using acupuncture therapy significantly decreased the number of headaches the patients experienced as well as the amount of medication they used and the number of days they missed from work. The British researchers concluded that acupuncture is a cost effective approach for treatment of migraine.

Previously, results of studies assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture for treatment of migraine have been called into question because of the “sham effect”. Sham acupuncture is where needles are placed in areas on the body where they wouldn’t normally be placed in traditional acupuncture. This is done to determine if the results are actually due to the acupuncture procedure or due to the placebo effect where patients improve because they believe they’re getting treated. A German study published in Lancet online showed that sham acupuncture was as effective as a real acupuncture treatment and both seemed to provide benefit. The most recent study published in the journal Headache showed that actual acupuncture using traditional Chinese medicine techniques was most effective, suggesting that real acupuncture provides better migraine relief than sham acupuncture.

If you have frequent migraine headaches, should you consider acupuncture as an alternative migraine treatment? There’s certainly some evidence suggesting its effectiveness for relief of migraines. Plus, use of acupuncture is associated with few side effects and is generally not cost prohibitive for most people. If you experience frequent lost days from work due to headache and have difficulty tolerating traditional migraine prescription medications, acupuncture may be worth a try. For the best chance of symptom improvement, find a reputable acupuncturist who uses traditional Chinese medicine principles for treatment of migraine.

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