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How Acupuncture Can Help Treat Headaches

By: Jessica Ruff, MD, MA, MSPH • Posted on May 23, 2022

How Acupuncture Can Help Treat Headaches

Headaches and Women

Nine out of ten Americans will experience headaches during their lifetime. Tension type headaches are characterized by mild to moderate pressure pain in the front of the head and are the most common type of headaches. A less common type of headache is the migraine which results in moderate to severe unilateral throbbing and causes greater disability.

Headaches disproportionally affect women compared to men. When experiencing a headache, look for the symptoms below, which can indicate a more serious condition:

  • Changing headache pattern
  • Developing new headaches after age 50
  • Experiencing fever or neurological symptoms such as numbness, weakness, or slurred words

Treatment Options for Headaches in Women

Because headaches are hard to treat, there are a multitude of treatment options available including:

  • Lifestyle modification
  • Supplements
  • Botanicals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Mind-body techniques
  • Physical therapy
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture treatment for headaches

While the origins of acupuncture are debatable, it has been a mainstay of Chinese medicine since the first century BC. In addition to Chinese based acupuncture, other cultures including Japanese, Korean, French, British and American systems have been developed, each with their own unique features. For example, in Japan acupuncture practice was limited to persons with visual disabilities since this method relies heavily on acupressure. Korean acupuncture focuses mainly on points located on the hand or ear.

Trying acupuncture for the first time can be scary, but knowing what to expect can help reduce any anxiety associated with the treatment.

  1. The appointment will begin like a regular medical appointment. You will be asked to share your medical history and describe the issue you would like to treat.
  2. A physical exam will be conducted, possibly including an examination of the tongue. All of this information will be used to identify the points which can help your condition.
  3. Next, you’ll be asked to lie on a table or chair. Five to fifteen needles that are the width of a strand of hair will be placed in special points located all over the body. You’ll remain like this with the lights dimmed and with calming music playing for up to sixty minutes.

Although acupuncture has been used to treat a multitude of illnesses for centuries, it has only recently been endorsed by western medicine as there is now scientific research that supports its effectiveness. In fact, both the American Migraine Foundation and the National Headache Foundation endorse acupuncture as a treatment for headaches and migraines. Research indicates that headaches, and migraines in particular, can safely be treated with at least six sessions of acupuncture. So don’t be afraid to try out this low risk treatment!

To learn more information about acupuncture, please contact the Department of Wellness and Preventive Medicine at (216) 448-4325 or CILM@ccf.org or visit clevelandclinic.org.

Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!

-Jessica Ruff, MD, MA, MSPH

Resources:
  1. Robbins MS. Diagnosis and Management of Headache: A Review. JAMA. 2021;325(18):1874–1885. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1640
  2. Kaptchuk, T. J. (2002). Acupuncture: theory, efficacy, and practice. Annals of internal medicine, 136(5), 374-383
  3. blog.nuhs.edu
  4. americanmigrainefoundation.org
  5. Mauskop A, Graff-Radford S. Special treatment situations: alternative headache treatments. In: Standards of Care for Headache Diagnosis and Treatment. Chicago, Ill.: National Headache Foundation; 2004:115–122
  6. Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Vertosick EA, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD001218. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3. Accessed 15 May 2022

About Jessica Ruff

Dr. Jessica Ruff focuses on nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep, and social connection to help patients make healthy lifestyle changes to combat chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Dr. Ruff completed her undergraduate degree at Miami University, and earned her medical degree from Case Western University. Her post-graduate training included a Master’s Degree in Bioethics and a certificate in Health Informatics from Case Western and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Meharry Medical College.



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