Migraines are a leading cause of misery and missed work for many people: they can be controlled by medication, but medication stops working for some of migraine sufferers. When migraines are out of control, or when a patient is seeking a holistic and natural treatment, acupuncture is an ideal solution. There is research supporting the efficacy of acupuncture for migraines. Acupuncture cannot just reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraines: it can eradicate them completely with regular treatments. Yes, that’s right: they can be cured if you follow your acupuncturist’s recommended treatment regimen in combination with the lifestyle and nutritional guidance that you are given.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) migraine headaches fall into two categories: liver yang rising or liver fire. There can be underlying conditions predisposing the patient toward these patterns including blood deficiency, blood stasis, qi stasis, or yin deficiency of the liver or kidneys. Liver yang rising includes the following symptoms:
∙Emotional component of anger, frustration or resentment
∙Irritability and Restlessness
∙Visual symptoms: flashes or aura
The category of liver fire can include the symptoms of liver yang rising but may also include:
∙Sudden anger or emotional outbursts
∙Bitter taste in the mouth
∙Intense, throbbing quality to the pain
∙Strong thirst for cold drinks
∙Feeling hot, especially in the face
∙Dry, red tongue
∙Yellow urine & dry stools
Acupuncture treatment for migraines should be performed 2 to 3 times in the first week for migraines occurring daily or for a migraine that has not abated for days. If the migraines are periodic or occurring in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual period, one treatment weekly is suggested. In difficult cases a patient may need to receive weekly acupuncture for 6 months to a year. It is very common to have Chinese herbs prescribed in conjunction with acupuncture for best results. An example of a Chinese herbal formula commonly used for liver fire type migraines is Long Dan Xie Gan Wan (Gentiana Drain the Liver Fire Decoction). For liver yang rising the formula commonly prescribed is Tian Ma Gu Teng Yin (Gastrodia & Uncaria Decoction).
In TCM the liver system is always involved with migraine headaches; sour foods injure the liver meaning they aggravate migraines. A migraine patient is advised to avoid foods like sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, lemonade, grapefruit, vinegar and vinaigrettes. In the case of liver fire, foods that aggravate heat symptoms are contraindicated such as spicy curries, hot chilies, cinnamon and horseradish. For more nutritional advice based upon TCM I highly recommend the book Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.
We all know that stress makes headaches worse. Stress and the emotions of frustration and anger in particular can stagnate the free flowing energy of the liver and gallbladder systems in TCM, resulting in migraines. It is best if possible to eliminate the sources of aggravation in your life if you suffer from migraines.
There are other therapies that can help migraines beside acupuncture and herbs, especially cupping and massage therapy. Cupping can alleviate chi and blood stasis, thereby treating many forms of migraines. Massage therapy is excellent for alleviating stress and lowering liver yang rising, thereby helping to reduce migraine frequency and intensity. Massage, cupping, and acupuncture all complement one another very well in the treatment of migraines. A licensed acupuncturist has massage therapy and cupping as part of his or her scope of legal practice, so you can receive all of these modalities as part of your TCM treatment plan for migraines.
Even chronic and difficult cases of migraines respond great to acupuncture! Consider the following testimonial from a patient who displayed symptoms of both liver yang rising and also liver fire:
“Monica was highly recommended to me by a co-worker, and seeing her for acupuncture was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I’ve suffered from migraines for years, but 3 years ago they suddenly worsened. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes dryness and chronic inflammation, increasing the frequency and intensity of my migraines. I wish I had started seeing Monica sooner! I improved dramatically, averaging 1 or 2 very mild migraines per month, instead of 3 or 4 intense ones. I got by with just taking over-the-counter pain medicine for a migraine instead of prescription medicine, which I’ve NEVER been able to do!! I’ve also cut my daily prescription migraine prevention medicine dose in half, and I’m still improving! I’m amazed, and excited to see how much better I’ll get! This treatment has been life changing for me. Monica also gave me food recommendations, which have helped with my migraines and dryness as well. She is very skilled and caring. I’m so glad she was recommended to me!”
This patient is continuing to receive acupuncture treatments and continuing to improve at the time of this post.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on other medical conditions that can benefit from acupuncture! Feel free to contact me with suggested topics or questions.