Anyone who’s ever suffered a migraine knows how debilitating they can be. Migraines are significantly worse than other kinds of headaches, and often involve sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting. They can last anywhere from 4-72 hours, and some people experience them several times per month. Although doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines, the consensus is that a chain reaction causes them. It begins with overactive nerve cells and ends with the release of neurotransmitters creating inflammation and pain. It is also widely accepted that migraines are most likely a hereditary condition, passed down from your parents. A number of things can trigger migraines such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes, and more. These triggers are also likely to be genetic and vary from person to person.

As indicated by traditional Chinese texts over 2,000 years ago, acupuncture works by stimulating specific acupressure points under the skin, releasing disruptions to the flow of energy, or qi. These points correspond to meridians across your body, and after acupuncture, the qi is free to flow along these meridians. Although modern medicine once overlooked acupuncture, researchers are finding that it does help with pain and inflammation vs. placebo treatments in controlled experiments. It is primarily believed that the very fine needles used in acupuncture trigger nerves and open neurohormonal pathways whereby endorphins are released, and patients experience less pain than before acupuncture.

So how can acupuncture help those who suffer from migraines?

By carefully placing acupuncture needles at particular locations and gently manipulating them, acupuncturists are able to promote blood flow to the area through a process known as “axon reflex.” While it may be tempting to try to get in to see an acupuncturist during a migraine to shorten it or reduce its severity, unfortunately, it probably won’t provide immediate relief. However, when done regularly, acupuncture does have the ability to reduce both the frequency and severity of chronic migraines over time. It may take several sessions before you begin to notice a marked difference in your migraines, but over the course of several weeks, you should start to see improvement.

While it won’t provide immediate relief, acupuncture does prove to be a great alternative to prophylaxis type treatments for those who would like to take a more natural approach to healing and wellbeing. Many conventional migraine treatments require taking pills regularly or at the start of a migraine. While this does work for many, it doesn’t work for everyone. Even those who have seen success with medication are relieved to have a natural alternative they can turn to instead, or in conjunction with their other treatments. Since acupuncture is a non-drug treatment, it is generally considered safe to use alongside other medical treatments.

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