Acupuncture and Migraine

A couple of weeks ago was Migraine Awareness week and it inspired this latest blog as it is a subject close to my own heart.

Acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines
Acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines

After the birth of my second son, I began suffering from frequent, debilitating migraines. After the birth of my third child I was having them so frequently I was rarely well. I seemed to be in a cycle of migraine and gradual recovery from it only to be hit with another one again. It was awful trying to look after three small children when at times, I didn’t even have the strength to walk across the room. I had tried several different treatments including the conventional triptans and beta blockers (which didn’t help at all), and other alternative therapies which helped a little. Various other stressful events happened in my life and I became seriously unwell with a chronic illness as well as still having the migraines regularly. I was really at my wits end when a colleague suggested I try acupuncture. The relief from migraines was almost immediate and to this day, I very rarely have migraines and on the odd occasion that I do, they are very mild and short lived.

I became fascinated by acupuncture and the philosophy behind it – the more I read, the more I wanted to know so I decided to study it for myself. I learned that Chinese medicine views health in a very different way to conventional western medicine. Conditions with the same diagnosis in conventional medicine such as migraine are considered symptoms of a variety of different patterns of ill health in Chinese medicine. These patterns can have different root causes due to a combination of constitutional tendencies when combined with lifestyle and dietary factors. Acupuncture seeks to address both the symptom (the migraine) and the underlying root causes.

Migraine in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, migraine – the symptom – is considered to be due to Yang Rising. Yang in this context, is energy or heat. The Yang rises from the torso to the head and can cause the aura and pain. The Yang rising can be due to an underlying deficiency or due to excess. If it is due to excess, there is too much of something that is generating too much Yang. This could be due to a build up of emotional tension that overflows and with a catalyst surges upwards causing the headache. Other excesses that can lead to Yang rising can be consumption of rich, spicy or greasy foods or too much coffee or alcohol or even being in too hot an environment. Where there is deficiency, it is because there is not enough of the Yin balancing component to contain the Yang. Deficiency can arise out of an underlying weakness or a combination of overdoing things and not eating well.

As an acupuncturist, I would be looking to ascertain whether your migraines were underpinned by deficiency or excess or possibly a mixture of the two and I’d be finding out more about your lifestyle, your general health, your menstrual pattern (in women) and your eating habits. This is because common triggers for migraines can be: eating and drinking too much or certain foods; skipping meals, emotional factors like stress or anger; tiredness; and hormonal imbalances.

Example of an Excess Migraine Patient

Some key signs and symptoms that one might see in someone suffering from an excess type migraine could be extreme irritability and prone to shouting outbursts of temper, red face, tending to feel the heat, restless sleeper and the headache would likely to be severe and pounding, on one side, probably around the temple and eye. Someone suffering from this type of migraine would be likely to have triggers such as eating too much rich or greasy foods, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, being in a hot environment or being under additional stress.

In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that helped to clear heat in the system and reduce stress and suggestions would be made for stress management, lifestyle adjustments and reduction of heating foods and drinks.

Example of a Deficiency Migraine Patient

It is most often women who suffer from deficiency type migraine headaches and they can often, though not always be related to her menstrual cycle. This person would be likely to feel tired a lot of the time, have difficulty getting to sleep at night, suffer from episodes of lightheaded-ness or dizziness, get blurred vision and dry eyes, and feel weak, especially after missing a meal. Someone suffering from this type of migraine is likely to have triggers that include skipping meals, overdoing things, lack of sleep or feeling particularly tired, certain foods may trigger migraines such as wheat or cheese and a female patient may find that she gets migraines during or after her period.

In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that would strengthen the digestive system to help improve the uptake of nutrients and strengthen constitutional reserves. Advice might include some dietary adjustments, ensuring the person is eating enough and enough of the right sort of food and that enough rest is built into the day and increase sleep.

Example of a Mixed Deficiency and Excess Migraine Patient

The mixed migraine patient is likely to share some similarities to the deficiency and the excess patient but their symptoms of tiredness and temper may not be quite so extreme as the other categories. This patient may have a busy life and feels stressed and irritable a lot of the time. They may find they have enough energy whilst at work or for other essential tasks but feel exhausted when they are finished. Their headaches often start at the end of a particularly stressful day or week and are likely to be painful at the time and leave them feeling exhausted afterwards.

Acupuncture treatment would focus on reducing stress and strengthening core reserves. Advice would be likely to include relaxation techniques and additional sources of support for stress management as well as doing appropriate exercise and some dietary recommendations to help improve energy.

Acupuncture for Everyone

Everyone is unique and has his or her own complex pattern of health, and every migraine sufferer has their own individual set of circumstances that underlie and trigger their migraines. My role as an acupuncturist is to identify what is out of balance in your individual set of circumstances and provide you with individualised treatment and advice.

The Evidence

Acupuncture has a proven track record of success and is recommended as preventative management of migraines by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN: http://www.sign.ac.uk/pdf/sign107.pdf ) and by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE: http://pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/headaches/management-of-headaches#content=view-node%3Anodes-prophylactic-treatment&path=view%3A/pathways/headaches/management-of-migraine-with-or-without-aura.xml).

One of my patients was kind enough to write this on my own Facebook timeline about her experience of acupuncture for migraines:

Gem GD Suffering from 1-2 stress related migraines a week and now down to 1 every 4 months all thanks to Jill Storstein

You can read more about the evidence of acupuncture for migraine by clicking on the links below:

http://www.abetterwaytohealth.com/the-uks-top-migraine-charity-is-about-to-reveal-a-safe-effective-drug-free-treatment-for-migraine/

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/migraines.html

How can you find out more?

If you’d like to discuss how acupuncture could help you or book an appointment get in touch with Jill Storstein on 07772 501810 or use the contact form here.

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