By Alex A. Kecskes
If you suffer from headaches and migraines, you can ease your pain without resorting to prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications that often have side effects. 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. While these Eastern remedies are most often used to treat other types of chronic pain, researchers in a large-scale study were surprised by the effectiveness of acupuncture.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, included 401 adults from 18-65 years old with chronic headaches (at least two headaches a month). Participants were divided into two groups: those who received up to 12 acupuncture sessions during a three-month period in addition to standard medical care, and those who received only standard care. One year later, researchers found those who received acupuncture experienced 22 fewer days with headaches, used 15% less medication, made 25% fewer visits to their doctor, and took15% fewer sick days off from work.
In a related study published in the same journal, British researchers found that acupuncture improved the quality of life for chronic headache sufferers. They concluded that acupuncture is a relatively cost-effective headache therapy compared with other treatments.
And finally, a case study published in Medical Acupuncture revealed that acupuncture eliminated or reduced the frequency and severity of cluster headaches with a decrease or outright discontinuation of medications. The study concluded that acupuncture may be used to provide ongoing relief from cluster headaches and to stimulate adrenal cortisol to aid in discontinuing corticosteroids (man-made drugs that closely resemble cortisol, a hormone that your adrenal glands produce naturally).
These encouraging results have prompted some health insurance companies to cover acupuncture services rendered for the treatment of chronic headaches and migraines.
Generally, to be most effective, acupuncture treatments are used in combination with Chinese herbs, tui-na massage, and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. The specific treatment recommended to treat your headache or migraine may depend on a number of factors. Including whether your headache is behind your eyes and temples, or if it troubles you at night, morning, or after eating. Other factors that can influence the type of treatment you'll receive include the effect of light in your eyes, and whether your headache is a dull pain, if it throbs with each heartbeat, or if it's sharp and piercing. The answer to these questions will help your acupuncturist select just the right combination to treatments for your pain.
When it comes time to treat your headache, your acupuncturist will begin by inserting tiny needles in key points throughout your body-along your legs, arms, and shoulders. There may be a brief moment of discomfort as the needles penetrate your skin, but once the needles are in place, most people relax and many even fall asleep during their treatment. The number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes and may be administered once or twice a week.
Always consult your medical doctor if you suffer from headaches and migraines before beginning any acupuncture, drug or other treatment program.
Vickers, A. British Medical Journal, March 15, 2004; vol 328