Acupuncture headache migraine therapy has a strong clinical evidence base for its use.
What is the history behind acupuncture for acupuncture headache migraine therapy
Acupuncture headache migraine therapy is well covered in classical acupuncture texts – both for acute treatment (during a headache) and as prevention for chronic sufferers (otherwise known as prophylaxis).
This page covers only chronic headache conditions and their applicability for acupuncture headache migraine therapy.
Unlike “Western” or biomedicine texts, traditional acupuncture texts do not distinguish between the different types of headache.
From a Western/biomedical perspective, how are headaches classified?
Headaches can, generally, be classified as either a primary headache or a secondary headache.
A primary headache is a headache that has no known cause and is characterised by pain in your head.
Examples of primary headache include:
- tension headache: tension headache is often caused by stress. The headache is often dull in nature and covers the whole head.
- cluster headache: cluster headaches can be piercing or burning in nature. They usually occur and resolve and then re-occur within a day.
- migraine headache: migraine is classified as being ‘with aura’ or ‘without aura’. Migraine with aura includes changes to, or the temporary loss of vision. This type of migraine used to be known as a ‘classical migraine’.
A secondary headache is a headache which is caused by something. Causes of secondary headaches may include:
- congested sinuses due to infection or allergy
- hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle
- withdrawal of caffeine
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- a blow to the head (concussion)
Further to the type of headache, headache is also classified according to its frequency:
- episodic headaches: episodic headaches occur in an ad-hoc, unpredictable manner. They rarely happen daily.
- chronic headaches: chronic headaches occur regularly, if not daily then at least several days in a week.
Understanding this information will help understand acupuncture headache migraine therapy as a holistic treatment option offered by acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners.
How does the acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioner approach acupuncture headache migraine?
In Chinese medicine theory, ‘headache’ is a symptom.
During the consultation, the acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioner will ask a series of questions relating to the:
- nature of your headaches: the type of pain and whether it is throbbing, dull, burning etc?
- location of your pain: is the pain in a fixed location or does it move around? Is the pain at the back of your head, the sides, the top or in your face? Does it feel as though the pain is radiating from somewhere else?
- frequency or timing of your headaches: is there a pattern to them and are they triggered by things like being tired or stressed or when you’re hungry or after exercise? For women it may be linked to the menstrual cycle.
Acupuncture headache migraine therapy relies on comprehensive questioning and careful analysis of signs and symptoms. Sometimes questions relating to other areas of health will be asked.
Will the acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioner only ask questions about my headaches?
Because Chinese medicine is a holistic model of medicine, your practitioner may ask subsequent questions about other symptoms and their relevance to acupuncture headache migraine therapy.
Sometimes these questions may seem unrelated to your headaches.
These questions may include:
- triggers (light, food, changes in the weather etc)
- associated signs and symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea or changes in your mood, dizziness or vertigo.
- family history
What happens once all this information has been gathered?
Your Brisbane acupuncture practitioner, Peter Kington, will then analyse and organise your signs and symptoms into a Chinese medicine diagnosis.
The Chinese medicine diagnosis is unique to the practice of Chinese medicine and is specific to acupuncture headache migraine therapy.
Your Chinese medicine diagnosis does not replace your medical diagnosis, rather it sits alongside it.
Your Chinese medicine and acupuncture practitioner will then work with that diagnosis to construct a principle of treatment which forms the backbone of your acupuncture headache migraine therapy.
What evidence is there to support acupuncture headache migraine therapy?
Across 2016 and early 2017, Australian researchers conducted a review of the highest evidence possible to support the use of acupuncture headache migraine therapy [note] MacDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (revised evition). Brisbane: Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd; 2017. [accessed 21 February, 2018. [/note]
Contained within this evidence review are evidence summaries of systematic reviews and other ‘level I’ forms of evidence.
There is strong evidence to support acupuncture therapy for people presenting with:
- Migraine prophylaxis which includes treatment to prevent migraine headache.
The Australian Department of Veteran’s Affairs review into alternative therapies (2010) concluded acupuncture as a prevention for migraine to be ‘effective’ [note] Biotext. Alternative therapies and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold and White Card arrangements. In: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs, editor: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs; 2010.[/note]
A similar review by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (2014) concluded acupuncture as a prevention for migraine to demonstrate ‘evidence of positive effect’. [note] Hempel S, Taylor SL, Solloway MR, Miake-Lye IM, Beroes JM, Shanman R, et al. VA Evidence-based Synthesis Program Reports. Evidence Map of Acupuncture. Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs; 2014. [/note]
A ‘narrative review’ from March, 2013 (including the esteemed Cochrane Review) listed acupuncture headache migraine therapy as effective as conventional preventative medicine. [note] Da Silva AN. Acupuncture for migraine prevention. Headache. 2015 Mar;55(3):470-3. and Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Vertosick EA, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016(6):Cd001218 and Yang Y, Que Q, Ye X, Zheng G. Verum versus sham manual acupuncture for migraine: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Acupunct Med. 2016 Apr;34(2):76-83. [/note]
- Chronic tension-type headache and chronic episodic headache
The Australian Department of Veteran’s Affairs review into alternative therapies (2010) did not review the evidence for this type of headache, so no conclusion can be drawn from that document.
The United States Veterans Affairs review (2014) rated acupuncture for chronic tension-type and chronic episodic headache as having ‘evidence of positive effect’.
The Cochrane Systematic Review rated acupuncture as ‘effective’ in the treatment of frequent, episodic, chronic, tension-type headaches. It also noted the evidence rating was moderate to low quality. [note] Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin BC, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;4:Cd007587. [/note]
It was also noted in the peer reviewed Headache journal that acupuncture has a “potentially important role as part of a treatment plan for migraines, tension-type headaches and several different types of chronic headache disorders”.
This same report noted British and German studies thought acupuncture to be a cost effective treatment option. [note] Coeytaux RR, Befus D. Role of Acupuncture in the Treatment or Prevention of Migraine, Tension-Type Headache, or Chronic Headache Disorders. Headache. 2016 Jul;56(7):1238-40. [/note]
I feel as though I need to know a little more about understanding evidence.
For those not familiar with it, interpreting evidence can be daunting and confusing.
There is an extensive discussion around the use of evidence in supporting acupuncture over on this FAQ page.
What if my condition isn’t listed on this page?
All that means is that there hasn’t been enough research to officially say, “yep it helps”.
Before deciding whether headache migraine acupuncture treatment is for you, feel free to give Peter a call to chat about your individual circumstances and his experience or knowledge of your problem.