Holistic Health Collective
headache relief

Can I Get Adequate Relief from Headaches with Acupuncture?

Multiple centers in Western Michigan provide support for chronic migraine or headache issues. Many patients who have suffered from chronic migraines will likely have visited a neurologist along with received MRI studies and prescription medications to treat or abate their symptoms. Here at Uplift Health MD, patients are able to be treated via acupuncture and or functional medicine to help improve the likelihood of being headache-free. Below is an article detailing how acupuncture could be helpful in lowering headache frequency.

Dependent on the frequency of headaches and its response to conventional therapy, frequent headaches can become challenging to treat with mono therapy (one type of therapy alone).

A migraine headache is typically considered a headache that is one sided in nature, sometimes associated with an aura, and commonly worsens with sound or sensitivity to light.

  • Over the counter medications for headaches include:
    • ibuprofen, acetominophen, excedrin
  • Prescription strength medications for headaches, many of them preventatives, include:
    • sumatriptan, amytriptiline, propranolol
  • Supplements include:
    • Vitamin B6, magnesium, Vitamin D, CoQ10
  • Integrative approaches
    • Dietary changes: anti-inflammatory diet, elimination diet
    • Chiropractic care
    • Massage
    • Myofascial release
    • Osteopathy
    • Acupuncture
    • Meditation

*If you are experiencing an active headache that is not resolving on its own and or having new neurological symptoms (weakness, numbness, changes in vision, vomiting and or nausea) please make sure to consult with your doctor or emergency care center.

This article will focus on using acupuncture for chronic migraine and tension headaches.   Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Japanese acupuncture assess headaches based on 5 element theory and so may have different classifications for headaches to help sort out what approach would be best utilizing acupuncture.  I’m going to list the most common complaints of headaches I see in the clinic:

Frontal headaches (often associated with frequent screen time).

acupuncture for tension headache

Japanese acupuncture approach for frontal head tension assesses many pituitary points and treats an energetic region of the body called the Ren Mai.   This is yet another meridian that is considered a curious meridian.  The meridian points actually start  near the pubic bone and run in a central line up the body influencing the chin, throat, nose and eyes.     Individuals predisposed to this type of headache may have underlying hormonal issues, menopause, thyroid disorders, or ear nose throat problems.

Excessive amounts of screen time (from job or recreation) can also be associated with this headache either causing a frontal headache or pain in back of the head.

Top of the Head Headache

This is sometimes associated with soft spongy spot on top of the head.  It may feel more like a whole head headache.  Sometimes this patient may also exhibit issues of confusion and brain fog.  They also may have some more underlying depressive concerns.

Back of the Head Headache (including neck and shoulder pain)

This may be associated especially with stress and poor posture.   Also can occur in more elderly individuals.   Brain fog or concentration may occur.   Pain seems to be located right at the base of the skull.  People will complain of pain located at base of skull at the back.  They also may have a lot of upper shoulder tension and mid upper back tension.  They may be struggling emotionally and there may be some more acute stressors going on in their lives.

Side of Jaw and Head Headache (including TMJ)

This type of headache may be stemming mostly from temporomandibular joint dysfunction.  Patient will have a history of grinding their teeth or clenching especially at night.  The pain seems to radiate along the side of the face and head.   They may also have a fairly tight upper shoulder / trapezius muscle on either side.

Japanese acupuncture has many successful approaches to treat these common forms of headache.  I often use body acupuncture and abdominal palpation to help direct treatment of these concerns.  In addition, I will also sometimes include auricular (ear) acupuncture to further relieve the pain.

Some more challenging headaches may require further root cause assessment utilizing functional medicine, supplements, and dietary changes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What’s the evidence on acupuncture for chronic headaches?  Is it supportive of acupuncture?

Yes, many individual trials along with systemic reviews of acupuncture and headaches tend to be favorable for acupuncture to be an adequate complementary approach to chronic headache treatment.

A 2017 article published the Journal of Pain, evaluated acupuncture in a meta-analysis for usefulness in treatments of chronic pain including acupuncture.   Patients’ responses to acupuncture were better than sham (fake acupuncture), and the treatment results persisted over time with only slight decrease in effect by 15% at 1 years time.
Vickers AJ, Vertosick EA, Lewith G, MacPherson H, Foster NE, Sherman KJ, Irnich D, Witt CM, Linde K; Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration. Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. J Pain. 2018 May;19(5):455-474. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005. Epub 2017 Dec 2. PMID: 29198932; PMCID: PMC5927830.

2.  How many acupuncture treatments do I need to do to know if acupuncture is helping my headaches?

Repeated 1-2x weekly treatments of at least 4-8 acupuncture sessions are recommended for longer lasting effects.

  3.  Can I make lifestyle modifications and dietary changes at the same time to improve my headache?
Yes, it is always a good idea to improve your diet, stress, and incorporate exercise to help improve your results from acupuncture
  4. Can I come completely off of my medications or at least decrease the amount of medications I’m on if I do acupuncture for headaches?
This definitely depends on the individual.  Some patients may be able to take a lot less over the counter medications for headaches or taper down or off of prophylactic medications for headaches.

-If you would like to explore more options to improve your headaches with acupuncture or want to learn about how functional medicine may help you reach out to me at www.uplifthealthmd.com/contact-us to set-up a 15 minute complimentary visit.

About the Author:

Zhiling Trowbridge MD has been providing acupuncture to the community of Grand Rapids, MI since 2016.  She received her medical degree at Wayne State University.  She is board certified in family medicine.  She studied and taught acupuncture through the Harvard Structural Acupuncture Program.  She is also certified in acupuncture from the Helms Medical Institute.  


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