If you’ve ever suffered with a Migraine, you know how debilitating it can be.  In the US alone over 30 million people suffer with migraines.  Migraine is the #6 leading cause of disability worldwide.

Ninety-one percent of migraine sufferers miss work or can’t function normally.  The estimated cost of lost productivity is between $5.6 to $17.2 billion.  It’s estimated that Migraine sufferers spend between $13,000-$18,000 per year on their care.

Symptoms of Migraines

Typical migraine symptoms may include an aura, pounding or pulsating pain in the head, blurred vision, tunnel vision, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or sound, or balance issues. Migraines can be debilitating and greatly decrease a patient’s quality of life.

Causes of Migraines

There is no one definitive cause of Migraine headache. There is definitely a familial (genetic) link.   It is estimated up to 70% of migraines are related to a genetic link. There are many factors that may trigger Migraines- caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, dehydration, poor sleep.  These are all contributing factors but not causes- more on this later.

It has long been believed that Migraines were a Neuro-Vascular disorder.  A Neuro-Vascular Disorder occurs when there is bleeding or restricted blood flow in an area of the brain.  Most of the medications used for treatment have focused on this theory.

Treatment of Migraines

The approach to treat migraines is to stop an attack when it’s happening or use medications to prevent/limit future attacks.

Common medications include:

  • Preventative Medications designed to reduce frequency of attacks: beta-blockers, anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications and botox
  • CGRP Antagonists are a newer class of medications designed to prevent migraines. CRGP = Calcitonin G Related Peptide- a major vasodilator in the body.
  • Abortive medications to stop an attack can range from advil, Excedrin Migraine all the way up to Triptans (Imitrex and others).

Despite all the potential medications, many patients still suffer greatly from their Migraines. Why?

What if the approach is backwards? These medications all treat the end cause – the migraine and associated symptoms- all based on the blood flow and Neuro-Vascular theory.  Is there additional way to treat migraines?

Brain-State Theory

A newer area of research is known as the ‘brain-state’ theory.  The difference with this theory is that the brain is at the center of dysfunction.  I learned about this is the book ‘Mastering Migraine’ by Dr. Adam Harcourt.  The theory is that the brain of a  migraine sufferer is functionally different from those who don’t suffer.

In this view, an area of the brain is dysfunctional and ‘primed’ for a migraine. It’s just waiting for a trigger to set it off. 

So how can we help?

Acupuncture for Migraines

When treating patients, we looking to treat the migraines at their source.  Each patient is evaluated individually to determine the main areas of their brain that are affected.  There is no one size fits all treatment. Your treatment is aimed at reducing any current pain AND treating the underlying cause of the migraines.

  • Musculoskeletal Issues– typically related to tight upper back, neck and jaw muscles. Acupuncture improves blood flow, reduces tight muscles, can release trigger points and helps with pain
  • Hormonal Causes– Acupuncture helps regulate hormonal shifts in the body and helps to balance out the hormonal changes taking place during the month
  • Stress– acupuncture regulates the Hypothalamic-Adrenal-Pituitary Axis involved in stress hormone regulation, getting you out of fight or flight mode

Treating the Brain Dysfunction directly –

  • Acupuncture influences areas of the brain related to pain perception.
  • Acupuncture influences the nervous system, causing the release and regulation of dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins (the feel-good chemicals)
  • Acupuncture influences the Trigeminal Cervical Complex- an area which is always involved in head pain


We also incorporate additional resources if necessary- nutritional supplementation and/or botanical medicine to help.


Now to the most important sections.  Benefits of proper treatment include:

  • Less frequent Migraine days
  • Lower intensity of headaches when they do occur
  • Reduction in Medication dosage
  • Reduction in Medication needed
  • Less missed days of work- or less ‘pushing through’
  • Better Quality of life- a return to doing things they WANT to be doing

With proper treatment, patients can improve their quality of life and be in charge of what they want to do and not


Are you next? If you or someone you know is suffering from Migraines, please spread the word.  There is hope and help out there!