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Headaches & Migraines

Migraine on its own affects around 10% of the population in the UK though few options are available for sufferers. NHS guidelines (via NICE) currently recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic tension-type headache and migraine. ​

 

How does acupuncture work? Acupuncture has been found to have effects on the nervous system, including locally where the needles are placed, in the spinal cord and brainstem, where a ‘damping effect’ occurs on pain transmission, and in areas of the brain which regulate the emotional aspects of pain. 

 

  • For chronic tension‑type headache, it says that a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over 5–8 weeks can be considered.

  • For migraine, it says that a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over 5–8 weeks can be considered 

 

The Research… Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress (Hui 2010)

 

Acupuncture may help to relieve tension-type headache by:

  • increasing endorphins (Han 2004) and neuropeptide Y levels (Lee 2009)

  • stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues (Pomeranz, 1987; Zhao 2008; Cheng 2009);

  • reducing inflammation (Zijlstra 2003; Kavoussi 2007);

  • increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.

 

Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine by:

  • Providing pain relief (Zhao 2008, Zijlstra 2003, Pomeranz, 1987)

  • Reducing inflammation (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003).

  • Reducing the degree of cortical spreading depression (an electrical wave in the brain associated with migraine) and plasma  levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P (both implicated in the pathophysiology of migraine) (Shi 2010).

  • Modulating extracranial and intracranial blood flow (Park 2009).

  • Affecting serotonin (5-hydroxytriptamine) levels in the brain (Zhong 2007)

 

Acupuncture has been found to be cost-effective (Witt 2008; Wonderling 2004) and as well as prevention it may also be used to alleviate symptoms in acute attacks (Li 2009) while showing that there are clinically relevant benefits of adding acupuncture to routine care.