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Using Acupuncture to Treat Migraines

It’s the headache of all headaches, one you’ll never forget. Individuals who suffer from migraine headaches are increasingly turning to alternative medicine – particularly acupuncture – to treat them.

Overview of migraines

The arrival of a migraine headache is a major event, a disrupter of regular activities. Migraines typically last from 4 to 72 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to severe throbbing pain, patients can experience nausea, vomiting, auras and sensitivity to light and sound.

Traditional medicine directs these patients to uncover any and all triggers for their migraines and to avoid them whenever possible. Doctors typically advise lifestyle changes, over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions targeted to relieve the symptoms or a combination of these remedies to minimize the impact of migraines on a patient’s life.

The role of acupuncture

Nontraditional therapies are sometimes helpful to many patients who suffer from chronic migraines despite their attempts to ward off these severe headaches. The Mayo Clinic indicates that the most useful appear to be acupuncture, biofeedback, massage and the use of herbs, vitamins and minerals.

Medical News Today reports that two reviews in the Cochrane Library – published by an international group that evaluates research in health care – established acupuncture as an effective way to treat tension and migraine headaches, respectively. Treating migraines with acupuncture involves penetrating the patient’s skin with thin metal needles at specified points on the body. This practice is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine dating back 2,000 years.

A representative of the Center for Complementary Medicine Research associated with the Technical University of Munich indicated that this type of therapy is popular in Germany. It has also become an increasingly popular choice of migraine sufferers in the United States.

A 2002 survey found that more than 8 million adults in the U.S. had undergone acupuncture treatments at some point in their lives. More than 2 million had done so within the prior 12 months.

The first Cochrane review focused on using acupuncture for tension headaches. It evaluated 11 studies covering 2,317 subjects. The conclusion was that acupuncture intervention was useful for patients suffering from this type of headache.

The second review looked specifically at acupuncture for migraine treatment. It covered 22 trials with a total of 4,419 subjects who had been diagnosed with migraine pain. While some had experienced auras, not all the participants had.

Six of the studies compared using acupuncture to utilizing no treatment or traditional treatment including painkillers. At the end of four months, patients treated with acupuncture experienced fewer headaches than the other subjects had.

One especially interesting result of the use of acupuncture to treat migraines in these studies was the conclusion that correctly placing the needles at the specified points didn’t seem relevant. Patients appeared to experience pain relief regardless of where practitioners inserted the needles.