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December 3, 2009 3:20 PM   Subscribe

What are your experiences with acupuncture for migraine?

I'll try anything to reduce the frequency of my migraines, and I've reached the point of considering acupuncture. I have my first appointment on Monday. I want to know:

- have you tried acupuncture and what has it done for your headaches? Specifically, has it ever aborted a headache and has it done anything for prophylaxis?

- what exactly am I in for? Do I just show up, have my consult and then get stuck with needles? Do they stick them in your head? How long do they stay there and what do you do during that time? Basically, just any general information.

- how long did it take for you to notice the effects of the acupuncture on your headaches if it worked?

Also, feel free to throw anything out there that you've done to help yourself with this condition. I'll share my own recent epiphany in case it brings any aid to someone reading this: scalding hot epsom salts bath combined with an ice pack where it hurts. After about half an hour of this I can far more greatly tolerate my pain and I am damn amazed that it took me 29 years to figure out this little solution. Sadly I can't carry a bathtub and ice pack around with me.

Note: I suffer migraine with aura.
posted by sickinthehead to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Acupuncture can be effective as a placebo treatment. However, there is no medical or scientific evidence that the mechanism described by its practitioners is even possible, much less that it works. Here's a great writeup of the largest study done of acupuncture for headache and migraine pain.
posted by decathecting at 3:29 PM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't have any personal experience with it but I'm getting to the point that I'll probably be trying it sooner rather than later for my headaches.

But, I had an uncle that suffered with headaches/migraines for years and went got acupuncture for it and was rid of them for about 3 years. He noticed improvement after about 2 sessions. I think he did 4-6 sessions.

My mom recently went (not sure why), but she said it was an interesting experience. She said that the person doing it was very deliberate in explaining every thing they were doing. So, at least take comfort that the procedure will be explained and to feel free to ask any questions about what's going to happen.

For my migraines - yeah hot bath and ice. Also, Coke has worked for me, although there is no medical or scientific proof (that I'm aware of) of it being a remedy. It works for me so I do it.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:50 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I haven't tried acupuncture, but several of my family members suffer from migraines, and I can tell you what works for them. Mine aren't frequent, and I've found that Maxalt usually does the trick, as long as I can rest for a while after taking it. One family member got them much more frequently, and it turned out that she was getting rebound headaches from the Maxalt, and once she stopped taking Maxalt, they got a lot better. My sister used to get them all the time, and stopped getting them completely once she cut gluten out of her diet.
posted by amarynth at 3:58 PM on December 3, 2009

My question isn't a debate over whether acupuncture has been scientifically proven to be effective by whatever mechanism - just looking for personal experiences.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:00 PM on December 3, 2009

I realize now I should have shared what I have tried so far:

- I have read Heal Your Headache and have completed adopted the elimination diet. That has helped quite a bit, cutting down the frequency to about 10-15 migraine days a month.

- I took out my Mirena and am no longer on birth control. I noticed that this helped slightly with the random headaches, but no my period is a nonstop 6 day long worst-migraine-ever extravaganza. I will probably get a new one inserted.

- I take Relpax and it helps a lot, but at the price of a rebound migraine (even if I only take rarely).

- I am not in a rebound situation

- I smoke a small amount of marijuana daily before bed as prophylaxis. This does help a lot.

- I take a riboflavin/magnesium/coq10/feverfew supplement every day.

- I wear a mouthguard at night.

So if you have any other suggestions above these, I'd love to hear it.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:06 PM on December 3, 2009

I got migraines regularly until after menopause - they were vicious in the two years of peri-menopause, though (as in every single month, for two days). Since then - maybe one a year.
I had a weird spate of headaches nearly 20 years ago when I was swimming a lot - they were blinding and only occurred as I was about half-way through my first lap.
The chiro I was seeing at the time was also an acupuncturist and he put needles in the 'hinge' of my jaw. I felt like a porcupine - but with very warm jaws.
The needles were in for about 10-15 minutes, I was lying down when he put them in, and he dimmed the lights afterward, and told me to just relax (I meditated for the time).
It did not hurt at all during or after - I couldn't even tell where the needles had been.
After two treatments, the headaches went away as suddenly as they occurred. At that time, I was not experiencing migraines as regularly as in later years.
Other than menopause, the only thing that helped me was ice and darkness (I did not get auras, but light/sound were incredibly painful, as was movement - to the point of puking).
Oh, and lots of Aleve (prescription at the time) - but it just sort of dulled things enough for me to sleep it off.
posted by dbmcd at 4:14 PM on December 3, 2009

My doctor is convinced I have migraines. I am convinced it's sinus-related, although all signs point to migraine (including pain behind one eye). My doctor prescribed Maxalt and it didn't do anything for the headache. Instead it gave me all these really weird and terrible side effects ON TOP of the migraine. Weee! He just prescribed something else that I haven't tried because I'm scared silly to.

I recently got an MRI done with contrast to figure out my headaches. It turned up fine - except my sinuses were inflamed.

Still he thinks we're dealing with migraines. I still insist it's sinus related.

My next stop will most likely be an NMD and and ENT (ear nose throat).

I only relay this information to you in case there's a chance yours may be sinus related as well. I dunno - just another avenue to explore. I'm at the point where I'll do anything and consider anything to not have these headaches anymore (isn't 30 years long enough?).

Best of luck to you. And kudos for trying some non-traditional routes.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2009

Sassyfras: thanks for your response. I actually use a neti pot twice a day (I have had an MRI and don't have sinus issues, but I figured what the hell, it helps some people). I would recommend it especially if you think you are having problems with your sinuses. As I said I don't have sinus problems, but it has made my overall breathing much better and it's actually a pretty damn comforting feeling afterwards.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:25 PM on December 3, 2009

I've had more than 20 years of migraines that are lessening severity (finally), but still pretty crippling. Imitrex and a short stint with Dopamax to keep 'em under control. Triggers -- hormones, grapefruit, stress, dehydration, etc. etc.

I went to a very well reviewed acupuncturist for 4 treatments. I had a hideous experience with it. It would relieve a migraine in process a little bit, however, when I left I felt drained and dizzy. Twice, acupuncture actually triggered a migraine.

I've never heard of anyone else having this reaction and gotten plenty of positive stories from other migraine folks, but you did ask for personal experiences.

(Of the semi-new age stuff, hypnotherapy worked the best for me. Reflexology and crystal healing made me feel dumb.)
posted by Gucky at 4:43 PM on December 3, 2009

Have you tried plain old Excedrin? OTC, and can work pretty well sometimes. There's also midrin, an older prescription drug. Like the triptans, it can lead to rebound headache and doesn't work for everyone.

When all else fails, sometimes just knocking myself out on Benadryl will do - I wake up feeling better, if hungover.
posted by dilettante at 4:58 PM on December 3, 2009

Folks around here generally seem to be pretty hostile to eastern medicine, so I don't know how many people will be willing to come in and say they tried it. However, I am currently undergoing acupuncture treatments for my migraines. I figured western medicine has had 15 years to fix me and failed, so no harm in giving someone else a try. :)

Your first appointment will most likely consist of a consultation in which they talk to you a bit about your ailment and your general health, and then check your pulse and your tongue. This is all to help them diagnose what exactly the problem is with your qi, which is what acupuncture is manipulating/correcting.

Immediately after the consultation is usually your first treatment, and depending on your diagnosis (in traditional Chinese medicine, not all migraines are created equal), you could end up with needles in your head, neck, hands, arms, belly, legs, feet, etc. You lay there and chill out for about half an hour, they remove the needles, and you're done. Subsequent treatments are just the treatment part. The needles will not necessarily be in the same places every time. Sometimes there might also be discussion of chinese medicinal herbs you could take in conjunction, or dietary changes you could make, if you are receptive to such things, but if you just want the needles minus the other facets of TCM, that's usually fine.

Most of the time the needles don't hurt at all. Sometimes I experience a minor dull ache after a needle has been inserted and/or removed. Most of the time, it's just sensation.

I've never been for a treatment during a migraine, so I can't speak to that, but so far as a preventive it seems to be moving me in the right direction. Weather is usually my worst trigger, but since I started treatments a couple of weeks ago, the shifts in barometric pressure have hardly bothered me at all. Also, overall, I definitely have more energy and less of a fatigue problem.

My acu doc ( who is an MD as well as a LAC) was upfront that some of his migraine patients are "cured" (my word) after a few treatments, some are largely cured but need the occasional refresher treatment, and some he is unable to help. Find someone who will be equally upfront with you.

Feel free to email me if you have questions... It's my mefi name at gmail.
posted by somanyamys at 5:29 PM on December 3, 2009

just to clarify... not hostile in this thread, but definitely there has definitely been some hostility towards acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in other threads I've seen in the past...
posted by somanyamys at 5:42 PM on December 3, 2009

also, i definitely need to proofread my comments. definitely.
posted by somanyamys at 5:44 PM on December 3, 2009

Acupuncture didn't work for me. It was an interesting experience and I could imagine it would work for some people. Maybe it was just my practitioner or maybe I didn't do it long enough.

Ask your doctor about a beta blocker. It kind of sucks trying it out for the first week or so, but some people use it as a daily prophylaxis; I was on it for different reasons, but it actually helped quite a bit with my migraines.

I'm sorry you're suffering. Ongoing migraines really really really suck.
posted by barnone at 5:45 PM on December 3, 2009

Barnone, I am sorry you are suffering as well. Unfortunately marijuana and beta blockers negatively interact, and as the former has many times been the only way I've been able to exist through a migraine I just can't give up the option. I've avoided the other commonly-prescribed daily medications because their side effect profile just doesn't mesh well with my life: I'm a gene therapy researcher and do a fair amount of work on animals - doesn't go well with being spaced out and overwhelmingly sleepy and whatnot.

Migraines more than really really really suck: they fucking blow. :c)
posted by sickinthehead at 5:49 PM on December 3, 2009

I used to have horrible migraines. I would be laid up for days a few times monthly. Nausea, castellation, the works. I took meds ( Fiorinal IIRC) but since I already take many meds for a heart problem, and felt the migraine stuff wasn't working, I thought I'd try acupuncture.
I went to a health clinic catering to the Cambodian community. After several sessions, the migraines went away and haven't been back since. That was about 8 years ago now.
Worked for me.
You can contact me if you would like an in-depth description of the sessions.
posted by pentagoet at 5:51 PM on December 3, 2009

I have no personal experience with acupuncture, but one of my coworkers raves about it for his migraines.

I use Imitrex (ugh!), Excedrin (when it's not that bad) or ibuprofen/caffeine, and hot, dark showers. My doctor recommended B complex vitamins and they've helped quite a bit.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2009

Caffeine and Tylenol, and a cold pack to the back of the neck to abort one that hasn't quite worked up to the visuals yet. I've got a Cafergot scrip but am a little "dear Lord, ergotism as a potential side effect" about it (which is dumb of me, I know).

Shotgunning five cups of coffee when the aura kicks up usually stops it from getting too crazy for me, though. Plus, it makes my coworkers afraid of what my regular coffee intake must look like.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:16 PM on December 3, 2009

I have acupuncture experience, but not for migraines. (Although I do get ocular migraines from time to time, and now I'm considering talking to the acupuncturist about them!) I went to acupuncture twice, both times as a last resort, when "real doctors" had failed me.

1. About twice a decade I get a full-body outbreak of hives. The best doctors can say is "Whoa, that's a lot of hives. Here, try this cortisone cream." The cortisone cream stops the itching, but does nothing to heal the hives, which take 3-5 days (of agony) to subside.

2. You know how your feet swell during PMS? Once my feet swelled up like little water balloons... and never un-swelled. I went to several doctors who affirmed that all of my internal organs were working fine. "Wow" is about all they could say. They were un-walk-ably swollen for about 10 weeks before I finally resorted to acupuncture.

I lucked into a great acupuncturist. She was very kind, and dealt calmly with my anxiety at being there. I WAS VERY ANXIOUS REGARDING THIS THING ABOUT ALL THE NEEDLES. She took my history, did some physical examination (checked my tongue, blood pressure, can't remember what else) then led me to the acupuncture room.

A table draped with a sheet was in the middle of the room, which was somewhat dimly-lit, and had piped in hippie music. Like Enya, but less edgy. She instructed me to take off the relevant bit of clothing (I didn't have to fully disrobe, for which I was grateful) and lie down on the table, covering myself with a sheet.

She came back in and stuck in all the needles. They didn't hurt. I couldn't look! I stared up at the ceiling and listened to the sedative music. Then I had to lie very still for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only 10 minutes. This was the hardest part the first time. During subsequent visits, I just kind of dozed off. It was very pleasant.

There were some really weird feelings of heat, prickles, tingly sensations, sometimes something like a warm sloshing feeling, who knows. I felt like stuff was going on, is what I'm saying.

Afterward, she gave me some Chinese herbs with instructions on how to take them. These were gelatin caps with green stuff inside, in vitamin bottles with Chinese printing. She also gave me a sheet of dietary suggestions (avoid X, try to eat more Y) which I of course immediately lost.

In both cases, the condition cleared up *snaps fingers* like that. My hives were gone by the next morning. My feet began de-swelling on the drive home. It was really amazing.

I have no idea how it works, and I don't really care. I am the biggest fan of Science and Western (i.e. Proper) Medicine that you will ever meet. But let's be honest, there are some things that Western medicine really can't help. Migraine certainly falls into that category.

If you've tried everything Real Doctors have to offer - and clearly you have - then you have nothing to lose from acupuncture, and everything to gain.
posted by ErikaB at 6:17 PM on December 3, 2009

I take an advil and excedrin together at the first sign of trouble. If it's still getting worse in an hour, I take another of each. (I have never taken more than two of each.) This usually works to block the pain but I sometimes still have the confusion/zombie effect.
posted by fritley at 6:37 PM on December 3, 2009

I tried acupuncture to see if it might help my migraines and upper back tension, too. (I got the session for free and I had always been sort of skeptically curious, so hey! Why not?) I had a pretty miserable time, despite the fact that the acupuncturist was known for being especially gentle. The needles themselves didn't hurt at all when they were placed, but the sensations I felt once they were properly adjusted were really intense and occasionally kind of excruciating. It wasn't always painful, exactly, but the whole time I had that awful anxious feeling you get in the dentist's chair, where it doesn't hurt yet but you know it's going to any second.

The acupuncturist assured me that acupuncture isn't for everyone, so no hard feelings there. I was also told that thinner women do tend to feel more intense sensations.

Anyway, I understand the frustration of grasping at straws for anything to help with migraines, believe me. (Plain old Excedrin works pretty well for me if I take it at the first sign of a migraine, otherwise I end up toughing it out in misery. I'll try your bathtub/ice pack trick next time, though!) I say you give it a shot, because it seems to help a lot of people, but be aware that you have every right to say at any point that you'd like the needles removed, and a good acupuncturist won't be the slightest bit offended. (I did that and he wasn't.)
posted by adiabat at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2009

The three factors I've found to hugely reduce my migraine frequency are:
- Avoiding staring at the computer when I can feel I'm getting 'migrainey' and worn out.
- Trying to keep my blood sugar as level as possible. If I don't snack at the right times it seems to throw me off and often lead to a migraine at some point.
- Sleeping enough and with a fairly regular schedule... but avoiding sleeping too much, which is just as bad.

I suspect something like acupuncture would have more chance of helping if you just had bad stress headaches rather than migraine. I'd be more inclined to keep looking at your overall routine and diet, trying to find any patterns that have an effect.
posted by malevolent at 12:30 AM on December 4, 2009

Acupuncture (and the accompanying herbs) did not work for me, though I found the experience of being poked with needles and lying in a dim, fragrant room rather blissful. The only thing that has worked for my migraines has been an intense vitamin regimen (massive amounts of B vitamins, magnesium and various oils) and psychotherapy (for other reasons, but it seems to help the migraines).
posted by cymru_j at 3:27 AM on December 4, 2009

My doctor is convinced I have migraines. I am convinced it's sinus-related.

You're one x-ray away from settling that argument.

I'm skeptical of acupuncture, but not hostilely so. I think cymru_j has a strong point: the overall experience is meditative, and 'forces' you to relax, control your breathing, and focus... these things may help.

I imagine that's why acupuncture has positive results for stress headaches. If it's less effective on migraines, that would also follow.
posted by rokusan at 5:44 AM on December 4, 2009

A dose of magic mushrooms seems to be a bit of a miracle treatment for some people.
posted by The Monkey at 7:10 AM on December 4, 2009

The Monkey: I have debated that extensively and would be willing to try it. It may have to wait until the next time I visit Amsterdam, though - I don't know anyone that could get me some down here.
posted by sickinthehead at 8:49 AM on December 4, 2009

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