acupuncture reduces frequency and severity of migraines

If you’re in severe pain, your head is throbbing, you’re sick to your stomach and every light and every sound bothers you, you are one of the one billion people worldwide who suffers from migraine. You are also one of the one billion people who will be very glad to hear this . . . finally!

Migraine is ridiculously common. It is the third most prevalent illness in the world, affecting 14% of people in the world and between 12% and 22% of the U.S. population. 91% of them can’t function normally during their attacks and frequently miss work. In Canada, the numbers are only slightly better: at least 8.3% of Canadians suffer from migraine.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is solid evidence that acupuncture helps migraine sufferers.

Placebo-controlled research shows that acupuncture reduces the frequency and severity of migraine (NZ Med J 1983;96:663- 66; Clin J Pain 1989;5:305-12). When some of 175 migraine sufferers were given one session of real acupuncture and the rest were given sham acupuncture, the real acupuncture group had significantly greater improvement and significantly less relapse. 40.7% experienced complete relief after only one session and 79.6% had no recurrence or intensification of pain (Headache 2009;49(6):805-16).

So effective is acupuncture that it treats migraine far more effectively than drugs (Am J Acupuncture 1999;27:27-30). In a remarkable study, 60 people with migraine were treated with either the drugs flunarizine and paracetamol or with 10 sessions of electro acupuncture over 30 days. Both groups had significant improvement in quality of life and disability scores, but the acupuncture group’s improvements were significantly greater. The researchers concluded that acupuncture works better than drugs (Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 2014;58(1):69-76).

In another flunarizine comparison study of 160 women with migraine, acupuncture was significantly better at reducing the number of attacks and was also significantly more effective at reducing the number of pain killers needed at two and four months. At six months, the two treatments were equally effective at both measures, but only acupuncture significantly reduced the pain intensity. Acupuncture also caused significantly fewer side effects (Headache 2002;42(9):855-61). The points used were: LR3 Taichong, SP6 Sanyinjiao, ST36 Zusanli, CV12 Zhongwan, LI4 Hegu, PC6 Neiguan, GB20 Fengchi, GB14 Yangbai, EX-HN5 Taiyang, GV20 Baihui.

When people who suffer from migraines were given either acupuncture or the drug metoprolol in a twelve week study, the number of days with headache went down by 2.5 days in the acupuncture group and 2.2 days in the drug group. 61% of the acupuncture group reduced their migraine attacks by 50% or more compared to only 49% in the metoprolol group. There were less adverse effects in the acupuncture group, and while only 2 of 59 people in the acupuncture group dropped out of the study, a full 18 of 55 in the drug group dropped out. This study again supports the conclusion that acupuncture is better and safer than migraine drugs (Headache 2006;46(10):1492-502).

A 2016 Cochrane review of 22 studies that included 4,985 people concluded that acupuncture was better than no acupuncture, reducing frequency by at least half in 41% of people versus 17% who didn’t get acupuncture. It was also significantly better than sham acupuncture. The review also found that acupuncture reduced migraine frequency significantly more than drugs after treatment. Acupuncture maintained its superiority after follow up, though the difference was no longer significant: after three months migraine frequency was reduced by at least half in 57% of the acupuncture group and 46% of the drug group; after six months the numbers were 59% in the acupuncture group and 54% in the drug group. Acupuncture was much safer than the prophylactic drugs (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD001218).


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Linda Woolven is a Registered acupuncturist (and Master Herbalist). She is a member of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario.  Book an appointment to see Linda Woolven now.

For much more on preventing and treating migraines, see our book The Family Naturopathic Encyclopedia.


The Natural Path
 is intended for educational purposes only and is in no way intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. For health problems, consult a qualified health practitioner for a comprehensive program.

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