Treating Headaches & Migraines with Acupuncture

Headache & Migraine Pain Fort Myers

Our Approach to Treating Headaches & Migraines Naturally

There are a variety of different types of headaches, both primary and secondary. These include the following:

Tension Headaches
Tension headaches, which occasionally affect most people, are the most common type of headache. They are recurrent headaches, and can last anywhere from minutes to days. These headaches are experienced as a dull pressure, mild or moderate in severity.

Migraine headaches are usually one-sided, pulsating or throbbing, and moderate or severe in intensity. They can be worsened with activity and may be associated with nausea and/or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light or noise. Some patients also experience auras, a neurological symptom that develops gradually over 5-20 minutes. The patient may see brief flashes or waves of light, or changes in their vision. Other common features of auras include vertigo, imbalance, confusion and numbness.

Chronic Headache
Headaches occurring every day or almost every day are referred to as chronic daily headaches or rebound headaches. Sometimes they resemble tension headaches, and at other times, migraines. The overuse of pain medications can result in aggravating headache patterns.

Cervicogenic Headaches

These are the most recently diagnosed type of headache and are musculoskeletal in nature. They may be caused by pain in the neck or spine that is transferred to the head. Many times, cervicogenic headaches go undiagnosed because of their recent classification.

Dangerous Headaches
Some headaches may be signs of a serious medical condition. These include headaches after trauma, headaches in the elderly, or headaches with any of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting without nausea
  • Severe dizziness
  • Fever
  • Extreme neck pain
  • Sudden onset
  • Hypertension
Acupuncture for Migraine

According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture helps headaches and migraines by stimulating the body’s ability to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting energy imbalances. The term “qi” (pronounced “chee”) is used to describe the energy that circulates through meridians in the body. The belief is that migraine and headache pain develops when the natural flow of qi is disrupted, leading to an imbalance of energy, and that acupuncture can correct this energy disruption to restore physical, mental, and emotional health.

According to studies, acupuncture may cause the release of pain-reducing opioid chemicals, such as endorphins. In addition, acupuncture may stimulate the brain to release other types of body chemicals and hormones that transmit signals between different types of cells, including those of the immune system.

In Chinese Medicine, headache is considered a ‘disease’ with many different potential causes.  During our process of diagnosis we look at a variety of influential factors and decide if the condition is related to something coming from within the body or from outside the body.  When do the headaches occur?  Are they worse with weather changes? Are they worse with stress or when experiencing other emotions? Are they related to your diet or sleeping habits?

Some of the other symptoms that help us determine the underlying cause of a headache or migraine is the location and the quality of the pain and when it occurs. Is it behind the eyes? The top of the head? The back of the head? The temples? Is the pain dull or sharp? Throbbing or more of an ache?  Do you become light sensitive?  Is it worse in the morning or at the end of the day?  Do they occur at a particular time of the month?  The answers to these questions help the acupuncture physician to determine the right course of treatment for the individual based on his own constitution and the imbalances presenting in his body. Two patients with similar symptoms might end up getting very different treatments. This approach to crafting a highly individualized treatment plan increases the likelihood of positive outcomes in treating our headache and migraine patients.  We treat the person, not the symptoms or the diagnosis.

Sometimes headaches and migraines can occur from an excess condition like too much heat in the body, exposure to wind or dampness, or a stagnation of blood.  Likewise they can also be caused by a deficient condition like dehydration, blood deficiency or qi deficiency.  Qi is considered the energy of the body’s innate, intelligent system of promoting health, healing and vitality and it flows through the acupuncture channels and points to nourish the various organs and tissues of the body.  Where there is a lack of qi, disharmony may become pain, disease and dysfunction.

Depending on which syndrome is at the root of the condition the acupuncture points will vary.  Very often we will select points at or near the area of pain (local points) but we will also use points far away from the head (distal points) on the hands and feet.  Often these points actually have a more powerful effect that those on the head itself.  In the case of migraine we very commonly use points in the lower body to help draw qi downwards away from the head.

“In the past I have suffered with migraines,” Dr. Healy shares.  “Once I eliminated the food triggers from my diet (artificial colors, sweeteners and MSG) and began addressing the issues in the muscles of my neck, my migraines virtually disappeared.  I still occasionally get an ocular migraine where my vision becomes impaired with flashing lightning bolts in one eye.  Luckily acupuncture clears it up in a matter of minutes.  There’s a group of points that I commonly use when this happens and when I needle one of those points (it varies which one) my vision begins to improve almost immediately.  Within twenty minutes, it’s like it never happened.”


By taking the approach of seeking to restore balance in the circulation of qi and blood, we allow the body to come back into a state of equilibrium and good health and allow the signs and symptoms of imbalance to fall away.

What makes acupuncture a unique anti-pain approach is that its effects may be long-lasting. In one recent study, acupuncture treatment reduced chronic pain in the neck and shoulder areas and associated headache, with the effects lasting for months.

Massage for Headache
Reflexology - Fort Myers Florida

Massage for Migraines and Headaches

The value of massage in treating tension headaches has been demonstrated convincingly through clinical trials. Massage is a great way to reduce stress and relieve tension. It is especially effective in reducing tightness of tender muscles, such as those in the back of the head, neck, and shoulders, and increasing blood flow in those areas. For some people, massage may provide relief from headaches caused by muscle tension.

Very often constricted neck muscles refer pain into the area of the back of the head known as the occiput.  Some of the muscles in the sides of the neck or shoulders can develop knots know as trigger points which can refer pain to the temples or behind the eyes.  Releasing these trigger points with therapeutic massage techniques like neuromuscular therapy can be very helpful

Reflexology, the practice of applying pressure to specific points on the feet to treat the rest of the body, is a very effective treatment modality for easing the pain and tension from headaches and migraines.  By helping the body to relax deeply, circulation is improved, muscular tightness dissipates and our perception of pain changes.

Herbal Medicine for Migraines and Headaches

There are many Chinese Herbal Medicines commonly used to treat headache and migraine.  Some focus more on the symptom – the pain or the pressure or the tension.  Others focus more on correcting the underlying internal imbalances that cause the headache.  With multiple medicines to choose from, your acupuncture physician can decide just the right course of treatment for you.

One of our more common patent herbal formulas for headache pain is Yan Hu Sou Zhi Tong Wan which is sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese Tylenol.’  It contains pain relieving and blood moving herbs including Corydalis, which is currently gaining popularity in the west for its pain relieving properties.

Among Western herbs used for migraine and headache treatment and prevention, only the effectiveness and safety of feverfew has been examined in clinical trials. Feverfew is the most popular herbal remedy for prevention of migraine headache, and studies have shown that it is helpful and well tolerated, with only mild side effects. However, more rigorous and larger clinical trials are required. Another herb thought to prevent migraines is butterbur.

A recent study found that melatonin was effective at reducing the incidence of migraines.  You can read more here.