San Francisco Acupuncture for Migraine Headache, Kristen Sparrow MD
Don’t you wish you could get rid of your migraines? You are not alone.
In the United States and Great Britain, headaches and migraines account for 20% of all visits to a Neurologist. Acupuncture can help you have more pain-free days.
One of my patients says on Yelp,
I have not had a single migraine since we began treatment. It feels like a miracle, but it’s not-it’s Dr. Sparrow’s treatments. Her insight and knowledge of migraines far exceeds anything I have experienced with western medical doctors. Her acupuncture treatments have honestly changed my life. I look forward to my appointments, and as a bonus feel incredibly relaxed and centered afterwards.”*
*results, as with all aspects of medicine, vary from patient to patient
What else you should know
- The Journal Anesthesia and Analgesia evaluated a number of studies looking at chronic headaches and acupuncture and found “Needling acupuncture is superior to sham acupuncture and medication therapy in improving headache intensity, frequency, and response rate.”
- Medications, even over the counter medications can make headaches worse.
- Migraines and headaches are one of the more common ailments in my clinic.
- Stress, poor sleep, and irregular schedules make migraines worse. I have been treating patients for migraines and other stress related issues for years. My first study was on acupuncture for migraines, and I have published on the stress response with acupuncture. (see research here.)
- More on some of my migraine cases and migraine research on the blog here.
One of my patients says,
My headaches were daily, with occasional migraines also. After a few treatments they disappeared. I still go to see Dr. Sparrow once a month for maintenance, and the headaches have stayed away.”*
*results, as with all aspects of medicine, vary from patient to patient
Call me 415-775-0117 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how and if I can help you. I will do my best to fit you in for an appointment. I know you have better things to do with your time than spend it in a doctor’s office, so I promise you to be punctual, efficient and attentive. How great is that!
Some more commonly asked questions
What is the theory behind acupuncture and migraine headache?
The ancient Chinese acupuncture practitioners considered migraine headaches to be caused by an imbalance in the yin and yang of a patient’s system causing an excess of yang to rise to the head. Often the Chinese concept of liver “stagnation” is considered a key element in migraines, but there can be other causes also.
How does acupuncture work for migraine?
Acupuncture can relax the muscles of the scalp and head which can be a trigger for migraine headache. But often needles are placed in the hands and the feet following classic Chinese acupuncture theory to balance the meridians. In western medicine these needles cause feedback to the central nervous system which helps to raise the threshold for migraine triggers.
How many acupuncture treatments will it take?
I ask patients to commit to 6 acupuncture treatments within a month. Then usually there will be two more weekly treatments and then the treatments are spaced out to once a month. There are no guarantees, of course, but sometimes one can see improvement immediately after acupuncture treatment, and sometimes it can take a few treatments to improve. It’s important to complete the series; otherwise the patient has wasted their time and money.
Are there any side effects?
The most common negative side effect during migraine treatment is tiredness after the first and maybe second treatment. It is possible to trigger a migraine, also, after the first or second treatments.. Fortunately, there are often positive side effects with acupuncture. Often one feels calmer, can sleep better, and withstand illness more easily. This is probably due to the decrease in stress that is produced. The ancient Chinese thought that acupuncture could improve longevity, also. We now know that stress increases cell aging, so it is possible that acupuncture does improve longevity, and fight aging.
Are there any other alternative therapies that can help?
For migraine, riboflavin, coenzyme q and magnesium have been shown to reduce the incidence of migraine. Recent studies also show that nightly melatonin in low doses not only provides anti-inflammatory benefits, but also helps prevent migraine attacks. In women who hare having monthly cycles, I urge them to take an iron supplement initially. Stress has been shown to increase many types of pain, including migraine. So any therapies to reduce stress (yoga, meditation, biofeedback, exercise, journaling) can help with most any pain condition.
Do you have to keep having acupuncture treatment for the rest of your life?
It depends. Sometimes people are fine after a treatment series and I never see them again. Most patients continue treatment at some sort of interval to avoid a cycle of migraines.
Is there any evidence that acupuncture helps migraine patients?
There was a recent study performed in Germany¹ which compared acupuncture to metoprolol in migraineurs. Both groups improved but the acupuncture group improved more than the metoprolol group.The number of migraine days decreased by 2.5 +/- 2.9 days (baseline 5.8 +/- 2.5 days) in the acupuncture group compared to 2.2 +/- 2.7 days (baseline 5.8 +/- 2.9 days) in the metoprolol group (P= .721). The proportion of responders (reduction of migraine attacks by >/=50%) was 61% for acupuncture and 49% for metoprolol. Both physicians and patients reported fewer adverse effects in the acupuncture group.
A recent study from Italy² showed that compared to Rizatriptan, true acupuncture (compared to mock or sham acupuncture) decreased the headache severity and number of headache days.
Here is a blog post where I explore the possible connection between the gut and migraine. Mothers with migraines are more likely to have children with colic. Using acupuncture points specific for the stomach is just as effective as the more traditional points in migraine prophylaxis.
And here is a recent study showing that acupuncture was more effective than Topamax.
Recent study published in Germany³ showed that acupuncture, both real and sham, decreased headache severity more than in controls. They also confirmed my findings⁴( “Autonomic Nervous System activity during acupuncture treatment: A pilot study of patients with migraine“) that the patients who did respond, showed a decrease in their stress response during treatment. The results with migraine patients may be due to a decrease in their sympathetic tone triggered by acupuncture.
1 (Headache 2006;46:1492-1502)
2 Headache. 2008 Mar;48(3):398-407 Traditional acupuncture in migraine: a controlled, randomized study University of Padua – Department of Medico-Surgical Specialties – Sect. Dentistry, Padua, Italy
3 Acupuncture in Migraine Investigation of Autonomic Effects (Clin J Pain 2008;24:106–115)
4 “Autonomic Nervous System activity during acupuncture treatment: A pilot study of patients with migraine