What We Treat
Migraines Demolish Your Day
One minute you’re, fine and the next, you can barely see, waves of nausea start to come over you, and then one side of your head is throbbing so much that you have to lie down in a dark room. A migraine has taken over your day, and suddenly you can barely function or get to anything on your to-do list.
Thankfully, you don’t have to let migraines dictate when you’re functional and when you’re not. Traditional Chinese Medicine offers safe and effective options for migraine prevention and relief.
Read on to learn more about the types of migraines we treat, their causes, and our evidence-based approach. You can also see some typical treatment plans for migraines.
Migraine Causes & Migraine Types
The causes, types, and presentation of migraines vary from person to person and migraine to migraine. Below, we’ll look at these complicated problems, their causes, and types of migraines.
What is a Migraine?
Most often, migraines appear as a throbbing headache on one side of the head. This pain is often accompanied by sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, nausea, and vomiting. Migraines can also be accompanied by an aura, which is a temporary sensory disturbance such as tingling in your face or arms, seeing spots, seeing flashes of light/lightning bolts, or losing peripheral vision.
Migraines can last from a few hours to several days. In addition to these typical symptoms, there are several other types of migraines that don’t follow these patterns, such as ocular and abdominal migraines.
Difference Between Headache and Migraine
All migraines are headaches, but not all headaches are migraines. Migraines are often more painful, so many people will describe a very painful headache as a migraine.
Diagnostically, a migraine is a neurological condition characterized by the presence of minor seizure-like activity in the brain. Migraine sufferers often experience a series of symptoms—nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances (auras or flashes), and/or sensitivity to light and sound—in addition to an intensely painful headache.
Headaches present as pain in the head without the other accompanying symptoms of a migraine. Aside from migraines, the most common type of headaches are tension headaches and cluster headaches.
By treating many patients with migraines year after year, we know that migraines don’t typically have just one cause. In fact, the best and brightest biomedical researchers don’t fully understand what causes migraines. Their current best guess is that genetics and environmental factors somehow influence serotonin and neurotransmitters, the brainstem, and the trigeminal nerve to cause a migraine.
Whatever the neurochemical cause might be, we do know there are predictable triggers for migraines. The more these triggers occur, the more likely a patient is to get a migraine. Common migraine triggers include: skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, getting too much sleep, not exercising enough, stress, certain foods, caffeine or lack of caffeine intake, hormonal changes in women, weather changes including barometric pressure changes, and certain medications.
What Causes Migraine Aura?
Aura is poorly understood, and its cause isn’t known. It may be linked to improper electrical activity in the brain. For many migraine sufferers, aura is the first sign they are having a migraine. Aura, however, does not happen for all migraine sufferers or for all migraines.
Aura is a sensory disturbance of some kind, such as seeing shapes, flashes of light, or changes in the visual field. This can also include feeling numbness or tingling. Usually, this occurs in the face, but it can happen in the limbs as well.
There are many different types of migraine headaches.
- Classic migraine
- Vestibular migraine
- Abdominal migraine
- Chronic migraines
- Silent migraine
- Cluster migraines
- Menstrual migraines
- Intractable migraine
- Sinus migraine
- Severe migraine
- Atypical migraine
- Stress migraine
How Long Can a Migraine Last?
A migraine can last anywhere from an hour to several days. Because of their extended impact on your day, it’s important to prevent them before they start, something our acupuncturists can help you with.
Are Migraines Hereditary?
Yes, migraines can be genetic and often tend to run in families. This is not always the case, however. In other cases, people develop migraines with no family history.
Migraine During Pregnancy
Many women experience fewer migraines during pregnancy, but that’s not always the case. If you’re noticing that migraines are keeping you from being able to enjoy your pregnancy, acupuncture is a safe alternative to medications. Medications—including migraine medications—are rarely tested on women and almost never on pregnant women.
Can Allergies Cause Migraines?
Yes. Unfortunately, the relationship between allergies and migraines is not well understood. It is thought that people who get migraines have a very reactive nervous system and immune system—especially when it comes to environmental factors. Because of this sensitivity, migraine sufferers can more easily get migraines due to allergens.
If you suspect allergies may be causing migraines, chances are that you experience more migraines in spring and/or fall— when seasonal allergies are typically at their worst.
Can Stress Cause Migraines?
Yes. In fact, stress is a leading cause of migraines. For stress-related migraines, acupuncture helps balance and calm the nervous system, allowing your body to relax and the pain to dissipate.
Natural Migraine Relief with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs
When we start migraine treatment with TCM, we work to understand you and your migraine patterns. For many people, migraines happen for several days at a time. We will go over what time of day, time of week, and how often you get them. When it comes to natural migraine relief, a big part of our strategy will be to prevent migraines before they start.
Migraines are often cyclical in nature, and so the first goal of treatment is to interrupt the pain cycle. This is best achieved by identifying the triggers causing your migraines and reducing or eliminating them, which often includes a mix of acupuncture, herbs, and lifestyle changes. TCM is an effective way to stop those triggers, interrupt the pain cycle, and get you back to your normal life.
Acupuncture for Migraines
Acupuncture is a wonderful tool to both relieve and prevent new migraines. Migraines tend to happen in clusters, and acupuncture can help break up those clusters to both relieve migraine pain and discomfort and stop future migraines from happening. This is why acupuncture treatment is effective at both preventing and treating migraines. Additionally, most health insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment for migraine headaches!
How Does Acupuncture Help Migraines?
Acupuncture helps reduce migraine pain and severity. It does this in two ways, one immediate and one more long-term. Acupuncture can have an immediate effect on migraines and other pain because of its analgesic—or painkilling—quality. Acupuncture’s analgesic ability stems from the way it can keep your brain from sending pain signals.
To help prevent migraines in the future, acupuncture can interact directly with the nervous system and help to “reset” it, allowing it to function correctly. It’s believed that acupuncture can help to alter the electrical activity of the brain, which can prevent or possibly stop a migraine.
Acupuncture has also been shown to alter neurotransmitters and serotonin, which can help prevent and alleviate migraines and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These effects help reduce the ability of triggers (such as tiredness, skipping a meal, or too much screen time) to cause a migraine.
How Effective is Acupuncture for Migraines?
Acupuncture and its related therapies can be a very effective treatment for migraines. It effectively reduces the pain caused by migraines and works with the nervous system to lessen the likelihood of future migraines. When coupled with lifestyle changes, such as making sure to eat regular meals, you give yourself a chance to seriously reduce the number of migraines you experience!
Can Acupuncture Help Prevent Migraines?
Yes. Migraines are often cyclical and are usually caused by a variety of triggers. Some triggers are avoidable (like foods), and some are not (like weather or hormones). Regardless of the type of trigger, our acupuncturists can change your body’s response to it with acupuncture. They can also advise you about lifestyle changes that can help to prevent triggers from occurring, such as eating regular meals and getting enough sleep.
Acupuncture Points for Migraines
Migraines, like many other conditions, are often treated with a mix of local points and distal points. Local points are acupuncture points used near the affected area, while distal points are those used farther away from that area. The specifics of each individual person’s condition will determine which kinds of points are used.
Acupuncture for Migraines While Pregnant
If you’re suffering from migraines and also pregnant, don’t worry! You can still come in for treatment. In fact, we get referrals from NPs and MDs to help their pregnant patients who suffer from migraines during pregnancy. This is because there are not many medication options available to pregnant women.
If you’re later along in your pregnancy, then we have adjustable tables and plenty of pillows, so we’ll be sure to get you comfortable!
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Migraines
In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine can also be very effective in treating migraines. Herbs are prescribed in formulas and are specifically tailored to each patient. Herbal medicine formulas for migraines focus on modulating circulation to the upper body, reducing lymphatic congestion, soothing erratic nerve activity, and decreasing inflammation.
Cupping for Migraines
Cupping helps calm migraine pain and tension. Cupping works to improve blood flow which can alleviate migraine pain and help to prevent migraines. With better blood flow, your migraine frequency should be reduced.
Benefits of Cupping for Migraines
Cupping is particularly effective for migraines caused by muscle tension. Tightness and pain in the neck and shoulders can often be a migraine trigger. Cupping works by using suction to unbind muscle adhesions and increase local circulation. Regularly taking care to reduce this tension can prevent the trigger from turning into a migraine.
How does cupping help migraines?
Think of blood flowing through your body as through a garden hose. Muscle tension is like a kink in a garden hose. When we cup your upper back and shoulders, it allows us to restore proper blood flow, which reduces the likelihood of getting a migraine.
Gua Sha for Migraines
Gua Sha treats migraines in similar ways to cupping. Muscle tension, especially in the neck, can contribute to the occurrence of migraines by tightening the nuchal ligament and the layers of fascia along the scalp.
Gua Sha is a scraping technique that can relieve this tension and is especially effective on smaller parts of the body like the neck and surrounding areas. With less tension and improved circulation, the instance and severity of migraines can be greatly reduced.
Migraines and Nutrition
Because migraines can be triggered by certain foods and skipping meals, our acupuncturists will want to talk to you about what you eat and when. They will work with you to figure out what role nutrition may play in your migraines and help you find ways to mitigate any nutrition deficiencies that may contribute to your migraines.
Nutrition for Management of Migraines
Eating a diet rich in whole foods and free from additives such as MSG and aspartame is essential for managing and preventing migraines. Our acupuncturists also often recommend that patients with migraines keep their blood sugar steady and start the day with protein.
Beyond these general recommendations, your acupuncturist will work with you to assess your constitution, eating habits, and migraine pattern. They’ll work with you to come up with a plan to make sure what you’re eating works for you to help minimize migraines and is realistic for your lifestyle.
Foods That Trigger Migraines
Identifying dietary triggers is an important part of managing migraines. While every person is different and reacts to foods differently, there are certain foods and food additives that are more likely to trigger migraines.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, foods containing histamine or MSG (monosodium glutamate) are most likely to trigger migraines. Eating chocolate, cheese, dairy, cured meats, or drinking alcohol may also contribute to migraines.
Caffeine can trigger migraines in some people and alleviate them in others, so it should be consumed in moderation, and its effect watched carefully. Different types of alcohol can also affect migraine sufferers differently. Red wine, in particular, is associated with a high level of migraine triggering.
There are also many migraine food triggers that are very individualized so it’s a good idea to discuss your eating habits with your acupuncturist.
Natural Migraine Relief
A Treatment Plan To Prevent and Relieve Migraines
Our acupuncturists will make treatment plans based on your specific health history and diagnosis. Your body and pain level will help guide us on how often you need treatment. However, the following will give you some idea of what to expect:
- For most migraine sufferers, we recommend you come in once a week for 4-6 weeks to start, and then we’ll reassess. If your migraines are more intense or happen multiple times per week, then we may recommend you come in more than once a week to start.
- Depending on progress, we may add in other therapies (like gua sha or cupping) in addition to acupuncture or recommend a course of Chinese herbs.
Your Acupuncture Treatment Plan
Your journey to better health begins before you step through our doors. You'll be able to easily schedule an appointment online as well as fill out your health history form before you arrive at our office—maximizing conversational and treatment time with your acupuncturist.
At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will discuss your health history, get input from you on what your treatment goals are, and develop a treatment plan. They'll then treat you using whatever services are best suited to your specific symptoms.
Although plans vary depending on the patient, most typically run for four weeks. At the end of your first visit, your acupuncturist will give you a written treatment plan. At subsequent visits, you'll discuss your symptoms and whether they've improved, regressed, or stayed the same. Your acupuncturist will adjust the treatment plan based on your input and their ongoing diagnosis of your condition.
When your main complaint is resolved, you can reduce treatment or work on another symptom. Still thinking it over? Take a look at our Testimonials page to see what other patients are saying.
Don’t Let Migraines Set the Terms for the Way You Live Your Life!
Fight back with acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, and nutrition changes to reduce your migraine triggers and get back to living and working pain-free.
Ready to experience this for yourself? Head to our Booking page and schedule your first appointment. If you’d like us to check your insurance benefits, we’d be happy to take care of that for you. We’re in-network with CareFirst/BlueCross and Aetna.
The Cherry Blossom Team