Headaches and Migraines


headache migraine acupunctureAlmost everyone has experienced a headache at one time or another. In fact, headaches are one of the most common complaints heard by primary care physicians, although most people self-medicate.

The list of reasons for headaches is one of the longest in medicine with over 300 different types and causes. While the occasional headache is not generally a concern, particularly if you can track its cause, such as lack of sleep or too much wine, chronic or severe or “mystery” headaches should be properly assessed and treated.

One large study of 401 patients with chronic headaches randomly allocated patients to receive either 12 acupuncture treatments over 3 months or control intervention offering usual care. The results over one year showed that the acupuncture group suffered fewer headaches, took less medication, made fewer visits to their GPs, and took fewer sick days.¹


As defined by WebMD, “Migraines are painful, sometimes debilitating headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise, and smell. These throbbing headaches usually occur on only one side of the head, although the pain can shift from one side of the head to the other, or can occur on both sides simultaneously. Migraines involve changes in chemicals and blood vessels in the brain, which trigger pain signals leading to headache and other symptoms.”

A study published in the journal Headache found acupuncture to have a greater effectiveness and superior tolerability than the oral administration of the drug flunarizine for the treatment of migraines.²

Cochrane Reviews are recognized as the holding the highest standard in evidence-based health care. The Cochrane Review for migraines “…concluded that acupuncture is effective and should be considered as a prophylactic measure for patients with frequent or insufficiently controlled migraine attacks.” ³


Depending on the cause of the headache or migraine, and according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, treatments can vary. Some headaches and migraines will respond best to acupuncture. Others have a dietary cause and can be treated via food cures (i.e. nutritional changes). Still others can use Chinese herbs alone or in combination with other TCM treatments to rebalance the body and relieve pain.


¹ Vickers AJ, Rees RW, Zollman CE, et al. Acupuncture of chronic headache disorders in primary care: randomised controlled trial and economic analysis. Health Technol Assess. 2004 Nov;8(48):iii, 1-35.

² Allais, G, MD; De Lorenzo C, MD; Quirico, P, MD; et al. Acupuncture in the Prophylactic Treatment of Migraine Without Aura: A Comparison with Flunarizine. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. doi:10.1046/j.1526-4610.2002.02203.

³ Schiapparelli P, Allais G, Castagnoli Gabellari I, Rolando S, Terzi MG, Benedetto C. Non-pharmacological approach to migraine prophylaxis: part II. Neurol Sci. 2010 Jun;31 Suppl 1:S137-9. doi: 10.1007/s10072-010-0307-4.