Headaches are sometimes akin to sticking thousands of needles into the skull – painful pricks in the head, forehead and temple that may or may not progress into a dull ache, or a sharp pressure, or a series of blinding bursts of light. As such, the idea of sticking needles into your skin for pain relief seems counterintuitive but it is actually not.
While further studies must be conducted for conclusive results as to the efficacy of acupuncture in headache relief, it is worth a try. Think of it this way: If you experience a reduction in the frequency, duration and intensity of your symptoms, then it is money well paid. If you did not, then you have a new experience under your belt.
In many cases, acupuncture is used for migraine treatment – migraine is considered as the most severe type – but almost any type of headache can be addressed by the alternative method. Acupuncturists use the needles in alleviating the acute pain of mild to moderate migraine attacks.
During an acupuncture session, the patient – you, for example – will be asked to either lie down on an examination table or sit on a chair. You must be as relaxed as possible since stress is also a trigger for headaches.
In a typical session, the acupuncturist inserts fine needles into the meridian points of the body with each needle having different sizes (i.e., lengths and diameter) according to the points being targeted. The insertion is followed by the expert manipulation of the needles.
This results in an immediate increase in blood flow through the tissues, a mechanism known as the axon reflex wherein the small blood vessels around the point of insertion are dilated. The increase in blood flow results in the removal of toxins known as stagnation in Chinese traditional medicine, thus, the pain relief experienced by the patient.
But this is not the approach used in migraine treatment! Instead, the head and neck areas are barely stimulated while the arms and legs are made the primary points of insertion. Why?
Keep in mind that the dilation of blood vessels is associated with pain so the insertion of needles in the head can temporarily worsen the symptoms. It is not just the pain in the head either but other accompanying symptoms like nausea, too.
You will also be asked to stay seated instead of lying down. Your acupuncturist will have greater control over blood vessel stimulation at a sitting position.
While needles are used for stimulation, your acupuncturist may also apply a mild electrical current with a high frequency (100 Hz) to the needles. The current will aid in constricting the blood vessels, thus, further lessening the sensations of pain.
Acupuncture can also be used to lessen the frequency of headache attacks – as a way to reduce stress in the physical and mental aspects. Stress, after all, has been closely linked to headaches including migraines so it makes sense that when you have lesser stress, thanks partly to acupuncture sessions, then you will likely enjoy more headache-free episodes.
Just try acupuncture and see what happens! You have more to gain than to lose.