Migraines are recurrent headaches that may or may not be associated with visual or gastrointestinal symptoms. Pain may be one-sided or more generalized. Women are more prone to migraines than men, suggesting that hormone imbalance may play a factor in the etiology. Triggers associated with migraines include stress, fatigue and weather changes. Some people are sensitive to alcohol and foods containing MSG, tyramine and nitrates.
Western medicine attempts to manage migraines with various drug therapies – often effective, but often with side effects. Many research studies have been conducted that confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat chronic headaches, particularly migraines. Patients who received regular sessions of acupuncture reported fewer, less severe headaches and commonly used less medication.
The basic premise behind the theory of acupuncture is that energy flows thru the body on very specific pathways called meridians. When these pathways become blocked, pain and disease result. Inserting very fine needles into points on the pathways facilitates the smooth flow of energy and pain is relieved. There are twenty documented meridians in the body – twelve are often referred to as “primary” meridians and eight are referred to as “extra” meridians. The first job of the acupuncturist is to determine which of the meridians are involved.
Some of the most powerful points to treat migraines are on the feet. That can be explained by the fact that the three meridians most affected by migraines have pathways that originate on the head, but travel the length of the body and end on the feet. By inserting a needle in the corresponding foot point, pressure is released from the whole meridian, easing pain. Different points would be selected depending on whether the headache is occipital, frontal or temporal. Often points on the hand are added to treat headaches. A point in the web between the thumb and first finger is known as the “command point” of the head in Chinese medicine and is very powerful to treat headaches.
Chinese medicine categorizes pain and disease in terms of the energy in the body being out of balance. This out of balance is either diagnosed as being excess or deficient, or a combination. An acupuncturist will gather information about the history of the headaches, inquire as to what factors aggravate or alleviate the symptoms, analyze all bodily functions, examine the tongue and take the pulse. A pattern of disharmony between the meridians and their associated organs in the body becomes apparent.
For example, a detailed history of the menses is very important for female patients and can be very indicative of an imbalance in the body related to headaches. It would not be unusual to learn that a woman with temporal headaches triggered by stress, also suffers from an irregular cycle with PMS symptoms of irritability and breast distention. Or a woman whose menstrual flow is very light and whose tongue looks pale, may typically suffer headaches and dizziness immediately following the end of the menses. The pain may be behind the eyes and alleviated by pressure. Or a woman who is prone to vertex headaches, may also have a red tongue and pulse that feels like a guitar string and may suffer from insomnia and high blood pressure.
Each of these cases would be treated slightly differently and because the whole body is brought back into balance, not only would the headaches improve, but other symptoms of PMS, fatigue and insomnia as well.