You may have seen acupuncture in the news last week regarding a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that acupuncture might be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines and preventing attacks. This caught my attention because migraines were one of the things that initially brought me to acupuncture when I was 19 years old. It was one of the several things that helped me, along with identifying triggers and reducing stress. Now, in my acupuncture practice, migraines and other types of headaches are one of my favorite things to treat because they really do respond well. Also, for chronic migraine sufferers, alleviation of these potentially debilitating headaches can be life changing.
So how does acupuncture work to relieve migraines and headaches more generally? With tension headaches, it is easier to explain. We select acupuncture points that release tight muscles and open up circulation. Our understanding of migraines has an added layer of both vascular and neural responses to inflammation. What this means is that blood vessels spasm during a migraine, generally dilating too much (whereas tension headaches typically involve constriction). This happens in response to different inflammatory mediators or in response to hormones or neurotransmitters. That is why triggers for migraines can be so varied.
Acupuncture can help redirect blood flow to reduce these patterns of vascular instability. Acupuncture can also help balance hormones, reduce stress and the inflammation that is an underlying cause. Then, perhaps with the help of other interventions such as herbs, identification of triggers, and some lifestyle adjustments, migraines can be a thing of the past, or at least greatly reduced.
Some tips for stopping a migraine in its tracks:
· “Warming Socks,” sometimes known as the wet sock treatment
· Taking a bath or soaking feet in warm water
· Applying cold compresses to the neck (for some, warm works better)
· Turn down lights and reduce sounds
· Drink caffeinated tea
· Get some restful sleep