From tension headaches to full-blown migraines, head pain is one of the most common reasons people rely on over-the-counter painkillers or other pharmaceuticals just to get through the day. But what if you could find relief from your throbbing head – and get rid of headaches for good – without using medication? We’re happy to report you can with one of the many natural remedies for headaches. While chiropractic care is still a leading natural therapy, acupuncture for headaches combined with chiropractic can lead to even faster, better headache relief. Here’s how!
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Six Science-Backed Ways Acupuncture Works for Headaches and Migraines
Acupuncture is a therapy within the medical system of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM has been around for thousands of years, providing natural relief from pain, stress, and a wide range of other health conditions.
When it comes to managing headaches, acupuncture is used to quiet pain signals and return the body to a state of pain-free balance. Here’s what we know about how acupuncture works to relieve headaches and migraines:
Acupuncture reduces the inflammation that triggers migraines.
Some migraines are considered a type of neuroinflammation, or inflammation that affects the brain. High levels of inflammation in the body (due to stress, inflammatory diet, allergies, or other lifestyle factors) activate the immune system, which then triggers cytokine production.
Cytokines are proteins that cause even more inflammation – usually to help the body fend off an attack from pathogens or recover from an illness. But in the case of chronic inflammation, the release of cytokines becomes a vicious cycle. This ramps up inflammation even more and could lead to more migraines.
Acupuncture (along with other ways to reduce inflammation) can help reduce the levels of inflammation throughout the body. This, in turn, will also reduces the frequency and severity of your migraines. Studies show that acupuncture can calm this cytokine storm, as well as reduce other inflammatory chemicals like cortisol.
Acupuncture encourages healthy blood flow through the body.
There’s a classic Chinese medicine adage that states “Where there is stagnation, there is pain. Where there is free flow, there is no pain.” Headaches, in Chinese medicine, are therefore seen as signs of stagnation in the body. By increasing blood and Qi (energy) circulation throughout the body (and specifically the head and neck), we clear the stagnation and your pain subsides.
In between acupuncture and chiropractic visits, keep your blood circulating by drinking plenty of fresh water and exercising regularly. Exercises like yoga boost blood flow, relieve stress, and enhance the effects of acupuncture for headaches.
Acupuncture promotes relaxation.
Headaches and migraines are often triggered by stress. So, a natural solution would be to work more stress-relieving activities into your headache relief and prevention plan.
Acupuncture doesn’t just feel like a break from stress. It actively helps your body rebound from the negative effects of stress and learn to adapt to stressors more efficiently. Studies show that acupuncture helps your nervous system transition from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) within a few minutes. This is all thanks to the release of “feel good” hormones (like serotonin) and endorphins.
Along with this shift, you’ll feel your heart rate slow, your breath deepen, and your thoughts go quiet.
Acupuncture reduces headache-triggering cortisol.
While lying on a treatment table enjoying an “acu-nap” is a nice way to relax, acupuncture takes stress relief to the next level. On a biochemical level, acupuncture also helps promote relaxation by reducing the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your system.
When we are under a high amount of stress, our bodies release cortisol to help us escape a dangerous situation. While that extra cortisol comes in handy when dodging oncoming traffic, it’s not so helpful when it spikes during a work meeting or at the dinner table. In these situations, we aren’t really in danger, and there’s nothing to physically fight or run away from. As a result, we never release that pent-up energy, and we’re left with an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure. Both of which can cause headaches.
Acupuncture works to reduce the amount of cortisol in your system so you can return to a state of balance.
Acupuncture balances hormones.
We’ve learned that acupuncture works to relieve headaches by reducing the hormone, cortisol. But acupuncture can also help with other hormone-related headaches and migraines.
Sex hormone imbalances can be an underlying cause of migraines, especially for women. While fluctuations are part of a normal menstrual cycle, severe imbalances are what causes headaches and other PMS symptoms. As hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, big shits can trigger headaches. The most common menstrual migraines occur after the stark drop in estrogen that occurs right before a period.
Acupuncture helps reduce the severity and frequency of cycle-related headaches by bringing hormones back into balance. While we aren’t exactly sure how acupuncture does this, researchers believe acupuncture stimulates the HPO (hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian) axis. This helps regulate the production of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone.
Acupuncture targets the root cause of your headache.
Do your headaches feel sharp and throbbing? Dull and achy? Hot or cold? Heavy or empty? An acupuncturist takes the quality of your pain – as well as where on the head you feel the headache – into account when determining your specific treatment plan. That’s because no two headaches are exactly the same in Chinese medicine.
Your unique signs and symptoms will point to a certain type of imbalance in the body that is at the root of your headaches. Once we understand the root cause, we can target the treatment towards those imbalances so you can get faster, longer-lasting relief.
Holistic Headache Relief with Acupuncture & Chiropractic Care
Natural relief from headaches is possible with a holistic approach. Both acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments can help relieve the nagging pain of headaches and put you on the path to a pain-free life.