Oftentimes in practice, I am asked by patients if there are any alternative treatments for headaches and the answer is – yes!
In addition to spinal manipulative therapy, massage therapy, and rehabilitative exercises, acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment that can reduce the frequency and intensity of chronic headaches.
Over-the-counter pain-killers remain the most common treatment for headaches or migraines, but when the pain persists (i.e. becomes chronic), doctors will often prescribe preventative drugs which – unfortunately – may produce undesirable side effects. As a result, many adults who suffer from chronic headaches and migraines are turning to alternative therapies for pain relief.
WHAT IS IT?
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that involves inserting fine needles into specific points of the body to relieve discomfort, encourage the body to heal itself quicker, and improve functioning.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The origin of acupuncture dates back to early 14th century China and has gained popularity in North America over the past two decades. As a result, two branches of practice have emerged:
#1 Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is used to eliminate an obstruction in the flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “Chee”); by placing the needles in a specific pattern along the channels of the body (also known as meridians), the regular flow of Qi is re-established, thereby correcting any imbalances and improving the functioning of the body’s internal organs. This method of acupuncture treats a myriad of disorders including digestive, respiratory, neurological, muscular disorders, urinary, menstrual, and reproductive issues, as well as physical problems related to emotional stress.
#2 Contemporary Medical Acupuncture
This method (which I use in conjunction with chiropractic treatment) takes a more modern approach and focuses on the musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles and joints). Although it still involves the insertion of needles in various points of the body – according to modern medicine theory, the presence of the needles stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals that communicate with our brain; using this pathway, hormones are released to our muscles and spinal cord to decrease the body’s perception of pain and gives our internal regulating system a ‘boost’ so that injuries can heal quicker.
WHAT THE RESEARCH TELLS US
Acupuncture as it pertains to headaches and migraines, has been proven effective in providing short-term pain relief. Two recent systematic reviews were conducted to determine whether acupuncture can reduce the frequency of headaches and migraines. Different groups of headache-sufferers were treated with either acupuncture, preventative drugs, physiotherapy/massage, and ‘fake’ acupuncture (needles placed in the wrong points or not into the skin). After three months of the study, the group that received acupuncture treatment reported experiencing significantly fewer headaches than those in the control group. Additionally, both reviews concluded that participants who received acupuncture experienced fewer side effects, and therefore were less likely to drop out of the study compared to those who received drugs. The studies concluded that although further studies are needed to determine the long-term benefits of acupuncture, the current evidence suggests that it is a safe and well-tolerated treatment in preventing chronic headaches and migraines.
Although mild episodes of tension-type headache can be treated adequately by pain-killers, other individuals may suffer frequent episodes that negatively impact their quality of life. As a drug-free practitioner, I am happy to provide an alternative (one amongst many) that has been proven effective with less adverse effects.
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