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Acupuncture for Migraine Headache Relief

For treatment of migraine headaches and other persistent headaches, acupuncture is often our primary treatment approach. Acupuncture is a safe, effective, and generally painless therapy which can often be highly effective in treatment of migraines and many other types of headaches.

In our clinic we have seen very good results with acupuncture treatment for migraine headaches, with no side-effects. We cannot speak to the success rates of acupuncture in general, only the results at our clinic. Acupuncture is a very broad, deep, and complex field of study. In general, even a very talented practitioner will need at least 7-10 years of full-time study to develop a high level of skill.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

In 2004, a randomized clinical trial of 401 patients showed that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic headaches (including migraines).1 In this study, patients who received acupuncture experienced an average of 22 fewer days of headache per year, used 15% less medication, and took 15% fewer days off from work due to illness.

Modern research has shown that acupuncture can help the body to release its own naturally occurring pain-relief chemicals, called endogenous endorphins or endogenous opioids. Acupuncture also helps the body to reduce certain chemicals involved in inflammation. According to traditional acupuncture theories, pain can be caused by a blockage in the body's vital energy. Acupuncture provides relief from pain by clearing blockages and promoting the smooth flow of this energy.

The effects of acupuncture on endorphins and anti-inflammatory chemicals help to explain the immediate pain-relief that people experience. However, these effects are not enough to fully explain the long-term benefits that patients often receive from acupuncture treatment. Many scientific questions still remain about the way acupuncture works.

Our patients with chronic migraines have experienced long-term benefits from treatment, ranging up to a year or longer. Each individual's case is different, and some cases require more frequent sessions over a longer period of time. Within a month or two of weekly sessions, it should be very clear to you whether our treatments are helpful for your condition.

You are more likely to get the best results from acupuncture by visiting a practitioner who has many years of experience treating your condition with acupuncture. In our practice, we have been able to help nearly 100% of our patients with migraines to experience a reduction in their frequency and severity of their symptoms.

If you have just recently started having migraines, we would generally recommend getting an imaging study, such as an MRI, to rule out any potentially serious or urgent problems which would require a different treatment approach. This is often done in consultation with a neurologist.

How Does Acupuncture Compare with Alternative Medical Treatments?

This section needs to be updated. New medications have become available since this was written.

Alternatives to acupuncture include a range of medications which are often prescribed by a neurologist. Our clinic has provided acupuncture treatment to many patients who use both acupuncture and medications. Many patients find that a combined treatment approach offers the best results. Neurologists prescribe these medications (below) because they believe that the benefit to the patient outweighs the risk of side-effects. Today, many neurologists acknowledge the value of acupuncture treatment in reducing the frequency of migraine headaches.

Axert (Amlotripan), Relpax (eletriptan HBr), and Zomig (zolmitriptan) are a few of the medications that are used during an acute migraine to prevent the migraine from getting worse. These medications do not prevent future migraines or reduce the frequency of migraines. Common side-effects of these medications include dizziness, nausea, weakness, and tiredness.

Other side-effects of these medications can include rebound headaches, stomach pain, weight loss, constipation, diarrhea, Raynaud's syndrome (a painful obstruction to blood circulation in the hands) and intestinal bleeding. Rare life-threatening side-effects have occurred from these medications, including heart attacks, stroke, and serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a rare but life-threatening neurological reaction involving hallucinations, fast heartbeat, and trouble walking. Serotonin syndrome is more likely to occur if the patient is also taking other medications such as SSRI antidepressants.

Gabapentin (neurontin), Calan, Isoptin (verapamil), and Elavil (amitryptaline) are a few of the medications neurologists may prescribe to help prevent future migraines. Many people take these medications for years without serious side effects. Common side-effects include dizziness, and dry mouth. Rare and serious side-effects of these medications include intestinal bleeding, liver damage, and increased risk of suicide.

Neurontin and amitryptaline can also cause a life-threatening reaction in approximately 0.2-0.5 % of patients (between 2 and 5 out of every 1000 patients), called neuroleptic malignant syndrome. This syndrome begins with symptoms of fever, muscle stiffness, severe confusion, sweating, and fast/irregular heartbeat, and is fatal in around 10% of cases. If the reaction is not fatal, it can cause temporary or permanent memory damage. Males under age 40 are at the highest risk of developing this condition in response to neurontin and amitryptaline.

We have seen many patients choose a combination approach, using acupuncture to reduce the frequency of migraines, and a medication when an acute migraine occurs. Every person's case is different, and it's important to find the solution that works best for the individual.

In the hands of an experienced practitioner, acupuncture can offer significant benefit in the majority of cases of migraine headaches, without any of the side effects of these medications. Some of our patients have been migraine-free for over a year after receiving a series of 6-12 treatments. Acupuncture may help during an acute migraine but it usually helps best when treatments are scheduled on a preventative routine schedule, such as weekly, every other week, or monthly.

For patients with chronic migraines, we recommend beginning acupuncture treatment before you have an acute migraine. This way, if you do have a migraine, you'll already feel comfortable at our office, the office paperwork will be handled already, and the initial consultation at our office (usually around 30 minutes) will already be completed.

Acupuncture helps the body to feel well-rested and relaxed. Acupuncture has also been shown to strengthen the immune system, improve blood sugar control, and reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Most health insurance companies recognize the value of acupuncture for migraine headaches, and usually cover acupuncture for this purpose.

Our patients include marathon runners, dancers, physicians, teachers, triathlon athletes, and people of all ages with minor or major aches and pains. The most common pain-related conditions we treat are lower back pain, arthritis, sciatica (back and leg pain), knee pain, shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, headaches / migraines, PMS symptoms, neck pain, and heel / foot pain.

1. Vickers, A., Rees, R., Zollman, C., et al. (2004). Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial. BMJ, 328, 744. doi:10.1136/bmj.38029.421863.EB

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Pain Relief
About Acupuncture
Before Your Visit
Information for Physicians
About Dr. Eric Windsor
Biochemical Research on Acupuncture
How We Work with Lab Tests and Imaging

About Maryland Holistics

Maryland Holistics LLC is the private practice of Dr. Eric Windsor, D.Ac., L.Ac. Our serene, professional office is located in Ellicott City, MD. Maryland Holistics has provided care to thousands of satisfied customers since opening in 2009. Dr. Windsor is a preferred provider in the CareFirst, Blue Cross Blue Shield, GEHA, and United Healthcare networks.

3525 Ellicott Mills Dr., Ste E
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Phone: 301-588-5858
Fax: 443-308-5690