Headaches are a common concern sporadically experienced in varying degrees across one’s lifespan. Though, approximately 1 in 5 Australians will suffer from migraines at some stage of their lives, generally observed to affect women more than men (Headache Australia, 2022).
Headaches and migraines are generally categorised into the following types:
- Tension Headaches
- Cluster Headaches
- Chronic Migraine
- Menstrual Migraine
- Vestibular Migraine
- Migraine Aura
- Triggers of Headaches and Migraines
- Tension – Stress, Anxiety or Depression
- Strenuous exercise
- Poor Sleep
- Dietary – food intolerances, food additives or alcohol
- Hormonal changes (i.e menstruation, peri-menopause or menopause)
Headaches and migraines can be difficult to manage and at times will attack out of nowhere, potentially impairing one’s quality of life. As Acupuncturists, we want to investigate the location of the pain (frontal, back, sides or top of head), the onset and duration of pain (whether symptoms are experienced in day-time or night-time), conditions that exacerbate the pain (pain is worse with cold/heat, worse/better with applying pressure) and lastly, the nature of pain (is the pain throbbing, sharp, fixed in one area, is it constant or comes and goes). By understanding these characteristics, we are able to accurately tailor our treatments to the individual for best possible outcomes.
Headaches and migraines are said to often affect people with low serotonin levels, and it is not uncommon for your doctor to prescribe anti-depressants that may lead to alleviation of symptoms. If the headaches/ migraines are triggered due to allergies, food intolerances or hormonal factors, a combination of acupuncture, naturopathy and massage may assist in regulating hormones and reducing inflammation induced by food sensitivities (restoring homeostasis in one’s body).
In a recent Cochrane Meta-analysis, exploring the therapeutic effects of acupuncture on migraines, findings concluded that acupuncture reduced the frequency of migraine attacks, lowered VAS scores and improved brain-head blood circulation. Moreover, when compared with treatment with medication, acupuncture displayed a higher level of effectiveness with less adverse reactions in patients (Ming et al., 2020). Additionally, a 2018 study that included 1155 participants from 14 seperate randomised controlled trials, demonstrated acupuncture had a significant advantage over conventional medication in reducing migraine attack frequency and associated with fewer side effects (Jia et al., 2018). Acupuncture is also seen as beneficial in the prevention of tension type headaches, as 51% of participants in another study reported a marked reduction in headache frequency (Nielsen, 2016).
The gold standard treatment frequency for acupuncture is twice a week for eight weeks (a total of sixteen treatments). At Life Synergy, we recommend beginning with six treatments for acute headaches and migraines. As for more chronic headaches and migraines, twelve to sixteen treatments are recommended (regular weekly to fortnightly treatments). This is a general observation, however the frequency and duration of treatment protocols are assessed on a case by case basis.
Arya Nielsen, (2016), Acupuncture for the prevention of tension type headache, Elsevier Science. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28392178/
Jia Xu, Fu-Qing Zhang, Jian Pei, Jun Ji, (2018), Acupuncture for migraine without aura: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Integrated Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32714268/
Headache and Migraine Australia, 2022. https://headacheaustralia.org.au/
Ming Ou, Wei Fan, Fu Sun, Wan Jie, Mei Lin, Yu Cai, Shi liang, Yang Yu, Min Hua, Li Cui, Hai Zhou, (2020), A systematic review and meta-analysis of the therapeutic effect of acupuncture on migraine, Front Neurology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32714268/