Acupuncture for Headaches

Migraines and headaches of all types can be debilitating. Sometimes, people believe medications are the only way to treat migraines. We have successfully helped hundreds of patients from all over central and northern Vermont with chronic headaches and migraines using acupuncture. Available studies about migraine headaches suggest that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, drug treatment, and has fewer adverse effects.

What Causes Migraines and Headaches?

There are different types of headaches with different causes. Primary headaches includes tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are results from other illnesses, such as sinus headaches, dental headaches and head injuries.

Migraine headaches result from a combination of blood vessel enlargement and the release of chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around these blood vessels. During the headache, an artery enlarges that is located on the outside of the skull just under the skin of the temple (temporal artery). This causes a release of chemicals that cause inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery.

Tension headaches are most often caused by stress. Other factors include tight neck and upper back muscles, sometimes due to a previous injury, but many times due to poor posture. We have successfully treated many patients with jobs that cause overuse of muscles that lead to headaches.

Experts are unsure why cluster headaches occur. Researchers in neurology have found that during an attack there is a great deal more activity in the hypothalamus – an area of the brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst. It is suggested that perhaps that area of the brain releases chemicals that cause blood vessels to widen, resulting in a greater blood flow to the brain, and subsequent headaches.

How Does Western Medicine Treat Migraines?

Headaches are most commonly treated with pharmaceutical drugs. Depending on the severity, frequency and type of headache, over the counter or prescription drugs are recommended. Two categories of drugs are often prescribed, one for the acute pain of a headache and one to prevent a migraine from coming on, called an abortive drug. Unfortunately, many of these drugs have unwanted side effects.

Western doctors are also recommending stress reduction therapies including meditation, massage, biofeedback, essential oils, dietary changes and acupuncture. We are pleased to work in an integrative fashion with neurologists, physical therapists, medical doctors and other providers to provide the best care possible for our patients.  We are experienced with communicating effectively with western providers about what we are doing and why we’re doing it.

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    How Does Acupuncture Treat Migraines?

    Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes there are different types of headaches but uses acupuncture to treat all of them. Acupuncture’s fine needles trigger an increase of blood circulation. When the blood circulation is increased for migraine sufferers, the enlarged blood vessels decrease and associated pain decreases. This is also how western medicine attempts to reduce migraine pain.

    We treat patients both during acute attacks of headaches and for prevention of future headaches. The frequency of treatment depends on the type of headache and severity.

    Available studies suggest that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, prophylactic drug treatment, and has fewer adverse effects. Acupuncture should be considered a treatment option for all migraine patients.

    Chinese herbs are also frequently recommended. Specific formulations of herbs are chosen for each patient to be working with circulation and reducing pain in between visits to our office. Our providers have Masters degrees in herbal medicine and are licensed to provide this care by the state of Vermont. We are experts at knowing contraindications with medications and will communicate with your other providers about what we recommend for you.

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    Vickers AJ, Vertosick EA, Lewith G, et al. Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. J Pain. 2018;19(5):455–474. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005

    Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;2016(6):CD001218. Published 2016 Jun 28. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3

    Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD001218. Published 2009 Jan 21. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2

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    Patient help sheet for drug-free ways to fight migraines

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