What is a migraine?

A migraine is an intense headache with intense throbbing pain, and is often one-sided. Migraines may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and sensitivity to sound. Migraines can occur with or without an aura, which is a warning sign that signals the onset of a migraine. Auras can include visual disturbances (flashes of light), blind spots or darkened vision, or tingling in the extremities. Migraines typically have triggers, like certain foods, hormonal changes and stress. Migraines are often severe and significantly impact a person’s quality of life for hours or days at a time.

How does acupuncture help with migraines?

Treatments are aimed at reducing the onset of migraines, and increasing the body’s adaptive capabilities so that migraines are less frequent and less intense when they do occur. Triggers such as stress and hormonal change can be modulated effectively with acupuncture. Migraines are also thought to be at least partially due to blood vessel spasms in the head, which can also be regulated with acupuncture.

In regards to stress in the body and the role that acupuncture plays, there are two portions of the nervous system that control the unconscious portions of our body’s functions – the sympathetic (fight-and-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems.

The fight-and-flight nervous system mobilizes the body’s resources under stress. It is helpful for our bodies handle short-term stressful situations, but most people have the fight-and-flight nervous system in overdrive. The nervous system that controls our body when we’re resting is the rest-and-digest nervous system (which works to counteract the fight-and-flight nervous system). The rest-and-digest nervous system regulates our internal organs and glands, and blood vessels.

The balance in the nervous system can be re-established with acupuncture by allowing the “rest-and-digest” portion of the nervous system to catch up and do its job by helping the nervous system to find its natural balance (“homeostasis”) with specific acupuncture points. The focus of treatment of acupuncture for migraines is the reduction of stress and tension within the muscles in the neck and base of the skull, and allowing the nervous system “reset,” with the goal of reducing spasm of the blood vessels, thus reducing migraines.  Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of migraines in combination with chiropractic care aimed at accomplishing similar goals, or in isolation.