Acupuncture Treatment for Headaches

Alternative medicine has recently become much more mainstream amongst patients and doctors alike.  While the World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed acupuncture for pain treatment since 1979, the acceptance of Eastern Medicine in collaboration with Traditional Medicine practiced by medically trained doctors is on the rise and for good reason.

Whether it be cupping, ayurvedic practices, mind and body therapy such as meditation or alternative pain treatments such as acupuncture, there is no doubt that patient’s and doctor’s focus has shifted a bit and a more holistic, integrative approach has become more popular.

In October 2019, the Mayo Clinic published an article titled “Integrative medicine: Different techniques, one goal”, which explained the fact that 30% of American adults have sought what was once considered alternative treatment. Doctors are combining these alternative approaches with more traditional medical practice and calling it integrative medicine.

Acupuncture has become a safe alternative to pain management, especially given the dangers of managing pain with opioids, such as addiction and even death.  Since acupuncture poses little to no risk when performed safely, it should be looked at as an initial course of action, rather than a last resort.  You may be wondering how acupuncture actually works and if it can relive your issues with chronic headaches.

Acupuncture has been used as an alternative treatment for pain for over 2,500 years.  It is one of the main components of traditional Chinese medicine, in which it is said that our body is made up of “qi”, or “life force”.  TCM considers our qi to be the energy flow between our internal pathways, or “meridians.”

When these pathways become blocked, due to an imbalance of our yin and yang, our qi cannot flow freely and can manifest as pain.  Acupuncture is essentially the practice of stimulating your specific acupressure points (some 2,000) with thin needles, to release the stagnant energy and rebalance your body.

Acupuncture can relieve a multitude of symptoms resulting from imbalance and is often used to successfully reduce the occurrence of headaches.  This is a relief to so many headache sufferers, especially those who cannot tolerate the medications or side-effects of the medications often prescribed for chronic headaches. WebMD notes that 3.5 million Americans have had acupuncture treatments in the past year.

According to Ka-Kit Hui, MD, and founder and director of UCLA Center for Eastern and Western Medicine, acupuncture “activates the body’s own self-healing mechanisms” and is an excellent alternative to drugs.

As mentioned, the practice of acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles through the skin, at specific acupressure points.  While Eastern Medicine touts the pain-relieving benefits of this practice to the release of stuck qi, Western Medicine states that the beneficial effects are a result of the stimulation of nerves, muscles, and tissue.

This stimulation can boost your body’s natural painkillers (endorphins and oxytocin), relieving you of your pain.  Regardless of which school of thought you choose to belong to, the results are the same and can provide great relief.

Acupuncture helps heal your headache issues in a few ways

  • Stimulates the nerves to release endorphins
  • Specific pressure points (li-4, also known as hegu) can be manipulated to relieve headaches. This pressure point, in particular, is located between the thumb and index finger and can even be stimulated by applying pressure to this area with the opposite hand

A study done by medical acupuncturist V. Korostyshevskiy, MS, LAc, determined that ”after treatment, patients’ headaches resolved for months or even years after only several treatments if the acupuncturist finds points to stimulate that can reproduce each individual patient’s exact symptoms of the headache” (  These trigger points can be found with the fingers placed on the neck.

While there are still skeptics out there who call acupuncture a “sham” treatment, it is an indisputably safe and effective alternative treatment for many.  For those suffering from chronic headaches, it would be beneficial to your health and wellness to first try acupuncture for relief, before consuming perhaps unnecessary medications that may have adverse effects.

The collaborative and complementary efforts of medical doctors and integrative practitioners will provide a much more holistic and comprehensive treatment approach, attending to potential causes and not just symptoms, which can ultimately result in better health care and well-being.

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