Does Acupuncture For Migraines Work As A Treatment?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine, that some people swear by and other people laugh at.

Acupuncture has been used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, such as joint pain, nausea, allergies, migraines, headaches and general detoxification of the body.

There’s more clinics and advertisements for acupuncture than ever before, so one might be inclined to believe, that acupuncture treatments for migraines and other ailments actually works, but does it really?

What is Acupuncture?

The theory behind acupuncture is; disease is caused by an imbalance or disruption in the flow of qi or life-energy. There are select points on the human body that lay on the meridian system. The meridian system is a traditional Chinese medicine belief, which essentially is a path in which the qi or life-energy flows. The meridian system is divided into several parts and has about 361 unique points.

When these select points, known as acupuncture points are targeted, it can bring about relief for the ailment the patient is suffering from by balancing or unblocking the qi.

This is an ancient belief in traditional Chinese medicine and there’s not really a western interpretation of this belief. It just is what it is, and is one of the reasons why many people think acupuncture is a scam or a placebo.

The exact date of origin for acupuncture is not known, but it is believed to have been developed in ancient China. Believe it or not, there has been some evidence to suggest that, acupuncture might date back to the Neolithic or even the Stone Age. Since then, it has been an area of study in traditional Chinese medicine throughout its history.

The first legally operated acupuncture center opened in America during 1972. Since then, the practice of acupuncture has been under constant scrutiny and remains a controversial hot topic among the scientific and new age communities.

How Acupuncture Allegedly Work?

People that practice acupuncture, study acupuncture points. They use thin needles to penetrate the skin and stimulate the select points, with the idea that they are changing or opening the flow of qi.

There are two main kinds of acupuncture, known as ‘sham’ and ‘true’. True acupuncture follows the acupuncture points and meridian system, as shown in traditional Chinese medicine, while sham acupuncture does not follow the meridian system or acupuncture points and are placed more indiscriminately.

In any case, both styles are used during trials and studies in determining whether or not acupuncture has any benefits. Although, that’s only one side of the coin, as some other studies have tried to bring a more modern and scientific approach.

Scientific Acupuncture

Modern scientific study has been somewhat inconclusive. In the true scientific communities, that have not yet dismissed acupuncture as a sham, have not been able to reconcile the idea of the qi and the meridian system with any kind of scientifically proven biological concepts.

That may be a controversial point for some, but the qi and meridian system can mainly just be seen as a belief or faith, it doesn’t necessarily need to be reconciled with modern biology for acupuncture to have a positive effect. The acupuncture points and their possible effects, on both human physiology and neurology is what’s really important.

One of the major scientific theories about acupuncture is that it affects neurohormonal pathways. When a needle is inserted into an acupuncture point, the nerve transmits a signal to the brain, which causes the brain to release neural hormones, that can create a feeling of happiness or euphoria.

Some studies have found that acupuncture can actually reduce pro-inflammatory markers, which in turn, reduces pain caused by inflammation.

There have also been studies that show, acupuncture can help relieve nausea associated with chemotherapy. This in turn, causes some to believe, that acupuncture for migraines, can also relieve the feeling of nausea and other symptoms caused by the migraine.

What Are Migraines

A migraine is considered to be a neurological disease, in which recurrent moderate or severe headaches occur. These headaches have associated symptoms like nausea and vomiting. The exact causes of migraines are not known, but headaches can last up to 72 hours.

How To Relieve Migraines

The best migraine treatment is medication. Getting proper medication can help reduce and relieve both the severity and frequency of migraines. However, there can also be adverse side effects, if you’re taking too many medications or taking them too frequently or in excessive amounts.

Aside from medication, there are other methods that can be used to treat some symptoms.

Some studies have shown that, rubbing the temples can produce temporary relief. There are also many home remedies that may or may not work, depending on the severity of your migraine. Not many home remedies have ever been scientifically tested or studied.

As important as relieving migraines is, it’s just as important to prevent them from happening in the first place. Being able to spot and know your triggers can be very beneficial to your overall wellbeing. Not everyone will have the same triggers, but caffeine, alcohol and aspartate have been known to cause migraines in some people.

Regular exercise and stretching have been shown in studies to reduce the frequency of migraines. Maintaining a healthy diet and sleeping patterns have also shown to reduce the frequency of migraines.

Acupuncture Treatment For Migraines

There have been a multitude of studies on the whether or not, acupuncture for migraines is an effective treatment.

The Cochrane review, conducted several studies to see if acupuncture could help treat migraines. Their first study proved inconclusive, as the data collected was insufficient. They conducted another study, that showed acupuncture for migraines could be a promising avenue, but still inconclusive on whether sham or true acupuncture made any difference. Another study showed that, acupuncture appeared to be effective for treating headaches, but still more research needed to be conducted before coming to a conclusion.

In 2012, The Canadian Medical Association Journal, published a study, where 500 adults were given either true or sham acupuncture over four weeks. After the study, every participant reported having fewer migraines than before being in the study.

Most participants said, they experienced an average of six migraines a month before the trial, and after the trial, an average of three a month. Interestingly, those participants who received true acupuncture reported less intense and less frequent migraines up to three months later, while the sham participants did not.

Headache, a medical journal, published a study in which, 80 women received weekly acupuncture treatments for two months, then once a month for four additional months. A second group of 80 women, were to take a daily dose of flunarizine for two months, followed by 20 doses a month, over four additional months.

All participants reported fewer migraines, but the acupuncture group experienced fewer migraines in the first four months and it seemed to reduce the severity of pain caused by migraines.

To spite these positive studies, there are twice as many conflicting studies, all which cite acupuncture as being less effective than medication or not effective in the slightest bit.

There’s also a large debate on how each of these studies are conducted. There are many small hurdles in designing a rigorous trial, as there are many variables and possible inconsistencies. Each side of the argument likes to poke little holes in the other’s conclusions, citing reasons for false positives and biases.


While there have been many trials and studies that cite acupuncture has some limited benefits, at the same time, contradictory studies have shown that, all acupuncture is a placebo. It’s still unclear as to which side is definitively correct.

It goes as far as some people believing in a conspiracy theory around acupuncture. Some new age and traditional practitioners and patients of acupuncture believe that, since acupuncture does work and cannot be patented by large pharmaceutical companies, it is in their best interest to discredit it, so that they can continue to push their patented pharmaceutical wares upon the public for larger profits.

While the conspiracy theory may be a bit far fetched, nothing changes the fact that, not enough is truly known about acupuncture yet, to conclusively say whether it has actually benefits or not.

Aside from the scientific community, there are many people all around the world that will swear by the benefits of acupuncture. Whereas, the majority of people of don’t believe in acupuncture, have never even tried it to really know.

However, when it comes to what helps migraines, acupuncture is still in the running as a valid and valuable treatment method. Most would even agree, that acupuncture is a better treatment, than doing nothing at all. They would also say, that medication is still the most effective treatment in battling migraines.

Even if acupuncture were just a placebo, if you were suffering from migraines, wouldn’t any relief be of benefit? Should it really matter if a scientist says it works or not?