Patient Blogs | Migraine
To Stick or Not to Stick: Acupuncture and Migraine
photo of acupuncture needles in womans back

I’ve tried acupuncture for my migraines on and off over the years. It’s been a mixed bag for me. 

First, let me set the scene. I should describe what getting acupuncture feels like for those who don’t know. You’re typically in a dark room, lying face-up on a table with soft music playing. Think of a massage room. There are places that have more of a factory type of acupuncture, and it feels more sterile. I’ve stayed away from those. Back to the quiet, dark, and relatively cold room. The therapist comes in and wipes down the areas of your body they’ll stick with the needles with an alcohol wipe. In all of my acupuncture sessions, I don’t recall more than 12-15 needles, although this may vary based on what you’re there for.

It feels like it looks – like little needles in your body. Some are completely painless. Others (like in areas of the feet or hands) can have a tiny prick feeling. Certain areas can sting a bit. So far, after more than 6 years of acupuncture on and off, I’ve never had so much pain that I regretted coming in. In fact, at times, some of my sessions have rivaled massage therapy sessions and facials. Well … maybe not facials. 

I started acupuncture for other health challenges. On my first visit – as expected – I envisioned all manner of torture would occur in the treatment room. “Needles in my body?” I didn’t care how little they were (as most of the therapists and friends who had tried described). I couldn’t get past the fact that there would be needles in my body. It really was more of a mind game. Most folks don’t get needles in their body on a regular basis. So, I was nervous. I’m pleased to say it’s not as painful as it looks.

Finding an Acupuncturist 

Finding an acupuncturist is a lot like dating. You check out a lot of people before you settle on one. I went through insurance-covered therapists, referrals from friends, and my own good ol’-fashioned Google research. Each time I mentioned migraines, they shared that acupuncture could be helpful. I wasn’t there for that specifically, but I would dedicate some sessions to migraines. Or, I would make an appointment if I knew I would be likely to have a migraine. For example, during my menstrual cycle, or after a particularly stressful week when I would anticipate a migraine. 

More Than Needles

I was surprised that acupuncture can involve more than little needles in your skin. Sometimes my acupuncturist would use mild electromagnetic stimulation, but I’m not sure that was for migraines. She also gave me some tiny little buttons (felt like itsy bitsy earrings) in the top of my ear. They looked like little seeds. I was told to rub them when I felt stressed. Whatever week I got them, I must have been stressed because I remember rubbing the heck out of those little white buds. It did help. Maybe it’s the same approach as using a popper or putty to deal with stress. Perhaps it’s about a distraction. 

Helpful Tips

If you’re going to try acupuncture for your migraines, there are some tips I’ve learned along the way. The areas that seem to be most sensitive to me at each session are my feet, hands, and ears. My therapist says that’s normal. I have found that when she’s putting the needles into the top of my foot, it can help with the sting if I point my foot straight out. 

After months of getting acupuncture, I would ask my acupuncturist what certain needles in certain areas of my body would do, especially when an area would sting more than another. She’d reply, “Oh that’s your tummy,” or “That’s your heart. Are you sad?” Each time, whatever body part “hurt” the most with the needle actually did match what I had going on with my health that particular week. Asking questions before, during, and after a session has always proved valuable to me.

Treatment for migraines looks just like other acupuncture sessions, but there are more needles focused on the scalp and neck. Surprisingly, one of my sessions included a “migraine needle” to my ears, which she explained would help with stress. Interesting.  

Is Acupuncture a Go? 

The jury is still out. 

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. That said, I haven’t tried it enough to determine if there are some aftercare things I should do.

Currently, I have no plans to schedule regular sessions for migraines. I just feel there are too many factors (in my case) to be resolved by acupuncture. My triggers are many, and I’d imagine needles in every inch of my skin – one for period-induced migraines, one for chocolate, one for stress. 

The biggest thing is that acupuncture provides a safe space to just relax and breathe. After running day after day, it’s a reminder when I’m lying on the table that my health is important. Focused time on my health is important. Those 45 minutes – needles and all – remind me to just be still. 

While my migraines didn’t completely go away, I did have fewer migraines.  Seems those studies that suggest acupuncture can reduce the number of migraines might be spot on for me. However, on a few occasions, I went into treatment, and I actually felt a little worse. 

I encourage anyone to give acupuncture a try if they struggle with migraines and other health conditions. If nothing else, it’s a relaxing experience – needles and all.

Tap into a community of fellow migraineurs on Facebook. Learn, share, and connect in our Migraine Support Community.




Photo Credit: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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Michele Jordan

Michele Jordan

Diagnosed since 1992

Michele Jordan, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, was diagnosed with migraine in 1992. Her writing background includes magazine and online journalism, grant writing, and now screenwriting. She is passionate about both physical and mental health and is the author of the book, Thanking Your Way to Joy: Daily Gratitude Journal. When not writing, Michele enjoys traveling with her husband, trying new, healthy recipes, and cuddling beagles. Her latest passion includes exploring and discussing issues around equity in housing, health care, and the justice system.

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