Acupuncture for Headache and Migraine Relief

Headaches and migraines are two of the most common conditions that we treat here at Acupuncture JQ. In fact, they are two of the most common medical conditions in the world. Statistics from the Migraine Trust estimate that headache disorders including migraines cost the NHS around £250 million every year!

Almost everyone suffers from the occasional headache. Some of the most common causes include stress, muscle tension, tiredness and dehydration. If you only get a headache once in a while, it can usually be treated simply by taking some paracetamol and resting. However, if you get more frequent headaches, you might want to find a more permanent solution.

Acupuncture offers a safe and natural way to relieve and prevent both headaches and migraines without the need for medication. It does this in a number of different ways:

Acupuncture Relieves Stress

If your headaches or migraines are triggered by stress, acupuncture offers an opportunity to relax and unwind after a busy day. Having the chance to simply lie down and do nothing can be relaxing in itself, but acupuncture works for stress on a much deeper level too.

Acupuncture regulates the central nervous system and the levels of certain neurotransmitters involved with our mood and emotions. It also triggers the release of endorphins which bring about a sense of general well-being as well as relieving pain.

Acupuncture Relaxes the Muscles

A common cause of headaches is muscular tension, especially the muscles of the neck and jaw. Acupuncture and other treatments such as cupping help to relieve this tension, allowing your headaches to simply melt away.

Acupuncture Reduces Inflammation and Improves Circulation

Inflammation is a common cause of pain, and may also be involved in certain types of headache. By reducing inflammation and improving local circulation, acupuncture can help to speed up the time it takes you to recover from a headache and reduce the chances of getting them in the future.

Acupuncture Relieves Nausea

If you suffer from migraines with nausea, acupuncture may be of great benefit. The acupuncture point PC6, also known as Neiguan, is located on the inside of the forearm, three finger widths from the wrist crease. This is a very useful point in the treatment of many conditions, but is most famous for its ability to relieve nausea and prevent sickness.

How Many Treatments will I Need?

If you are suffering from chronic headaches or migraines, acupuncture can be extremely helpful. However, it is not a quick fix and you may need several treatments before you can notice a big difference in your symptoms. Realistically, you may also need ongoing treatment to manage your condition in the long-run.

At Acupuncture JQ, we recommend a minimum of 4 – 6 weekly treatments to get your symptoms under control. You can then come for less frequent “top-up” treatments to keep your headaches or migraines at bay.

Managing Headaches and Migraines Naturally

There are many things you can do to try and combat headaches and migraines without the need for medication. Here are some of our top tips for natural headache and migraine relief:

Avoid Stress

This may be easier said than done, but if you can keep your stress levels down, you will reduce your chances of getting a headache or migraine too. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises to keep you feeling calm throughout the day.

Eat and Drink Regularly

Hunger and dehydration can both cause headaches, so be sure to eat at regular intervals and drink enough fluids. Limit your intake of tea and coffee as caffeine can cause withdrawal headaches if you drink a lot and suddenly stop. Alcohol is another well known cause of headaches and should be kept to a minimum.

Get Your Eyes Checked

It is important to get your eyes checked regularly, especially if you work with computers. If you need glasses or are wearing glasses with the wrong prescription, this can cause headaches as well as problems with your eyesight.

Keep a Diary

Keep a diary of your headaches or migraines including symptoms, severity, and what you have done and eaten/drunk on that day. This should help you to identify triggers and avoid them as much as possible. Many women find that they get headaches or migraines around the time of their period, and this can be an especially beneficial time to come for acupuncture treatment.

Finally, if you suddenly develop a severe headache with other symptoms, or if you get regular headaches for a long time, see your GP for further tests and advice.


How Acupuncture Relieves Stress and Anxiety, Naturally

Acupuncture is often touted as a natural way to relieve stress, and most people report feeling relaxed after a treatment. But how does this ancient therapy really work to reduce stress and anxiety?

Understanding the Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for our involuntary actions such as breathing and digestion. It has two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic branch is responsible for our “fight or flight” response to stress, while the parasympathetic branch is responsible for rest, repair and relaxation.

When we are under long-term stress, our bodies can switch into sympathetic overdrive resulting in both physical and emotional symptoms. In order to combat this, it is necessary to restore balance within the ANS. The sympathetic branch needs to be calmed and the parasympathetic branch stimulated.

The ANS is a complex system which relies on both chemical and electrical signals to work. Acupuncture relieves stress and anxiety by influencing these signals and changing the way that the body communicates with the brain.

Acupuncture Restores Autonomic Balance

This study on how acupuncture regulates the nervous system showed that acupuncture affects the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of the ANS.

Neurotransmitters play an important role in everything from our mood to our memory, and in conditions such as chronic stress, anxiety and depression they can become imbalanced.

Acupuncture regulates the levels of these neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, dopamine, GABA and glutamate. It is no coincidence that these are the the neurotransmitters most involved with our mood and emotions.

Acupuncture has also been shown to increase activity in the vagus nerve. This nerve runs from the brain to the abdomen and plays an important role in parasympathetic function. An increase in vagus nerve activity is associated with reduced stress and an increased state of relaxation.

Acupuncture Alters Your Brainwaves

Brainwaves have long been used to measure electrical activity in the brain and nervous system. There are four major types of brainwaves; alpha, beta, theta and delta.

Alpha brainwaves are dominant when we are awake, but relaxed and calm. Beta brainwaves are dominant when we are awake and active, thinking and problem solving. Theta and delta brainwaves are associated with deep relaxation, and can be measured during sleep or meditation. They are involved in learning, memory and dreams.

Acupuncture has been shown to increase alpha and delta brainwaves to aid sleep and reduce anxiety, another way in which it can help to relieve stress.

Acupuncture Gets You High

Well, sort of. Acupuncture works on the endogenous opioid system. This is the part of the brain which is influenced by painkillers such as morphine. These drugs block pain by binding with opioid receptors in the brain, and as a side effect, produce a sense of well-being or a “high” which is part of what makes these drugs so addictive.

But did you know that your body can also make its own opioids? These are known as endorphins. These are your personal, natural painkillers and also what give you that buzz after a good workout or sex.

Acupuncture not only triggers the release of endorphins, but may also increase the number of opioid receptors in your brain. This is what makes acupuncture so effective in treating pain and also contributes to its stress-busting abilities.

Acupuncture Relieves Stress and Anxiety, Naturally

Aside from all the evidence about how acupuncture works for stress and anxiety, having acupuncture is relaxing in itself. Simply lying quietly while the needles do their work is extremely calming, and many people even fall asleep during their treatments.

So if you think having needles stuck in you doesn’t sound like a relaxing experience, think again. Or why not try it for yourself and see?

Three Simple Relaxation Techniques Anyone Can Try

Mindfulness and meditation are both popular ways to relax and over time, may help to reduce the symptoms of stress.

The idea of meditation can seem daunting to begin with, but there are plenty of simple techniques you can try to get you started.

Here are just a few suggestions for quick and easy meditations you can try at home. There are many more out there. Experiment to find one that suits you, and do it any time you feel the need.

Mindful Breathing

Being aware of your breathing is the basis of many meditations, and breathing mindfully can be extremely relaxing in itself. Practice this exercise for a few minutes the first few times and as you begin to feel more comfortable, gradually build up the time you spend on this exercise.

  • Find a quiet space, where you won’t be interrupted

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position

  • Close your eyes and put one of your hands on your belly

  • Inhale slowly. A count of 6 is ideal, but breathe at a rate that feels comfortable for you

  • Exhale slowly, again for a count of 6 or whatever feels comfortable

  • With each breath, pay attention to the sensations in your body, notice the movement of your chest, ribs and belly as they rise and fall.

  • If your mind begins to wander, do not fight your thoughts. Just acknowledge them and turn your attention back to your breathing

Walking Meditation

Meditation does not have to be done sitting or lying indoors, you can meditate whilst moving too. Yoga, tai chi and qi gong can all help you to meditate, but perhaps the simplest of all is this walking meditation.

Walking in a park, forest or other natural setting is better, but if this is not possible, choose a quiet street where you won’t face too many distractions. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for the weather so that your mind won’t stray too much.

  • Begin walking at a steady, comfortable pace

  • Pay close attention to your feet as they hit the ground

  • Notice the feeling in your heels, the arches and balls of your feet and your toes as they each touch the ground

  • If you feel your mind wandering, acknowledge your thoughts and return your attention to your feet

  • Try this for a few minutes the first time and build up to longer as you begin to feel more comfortable with the exercise

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This is a technique which allows you to relax every part of your body and your mind too. It is best done lying down and is an ideal meditation to do in bed to help you relax and drift into a peaceful sleep.

  • Lie down in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths and close your eyes

  • Focus on your right foot. Tense the muscles, pulling your toes down towards your heel

  • Hold for a few seconds, and then release

  • Feel the tension flow away from your foot as the muscles relax

  • Allow your foot to become heavy and sink into the floor or bed

  • Repeat the same exercise for your left foot

  • Gradually work your way up your body, repeating the exercise for each body part, one by one; your calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, arms, hand, back, shoulders, neck and face

  • If your mind strays, acknowledge your thoughts and return your attention to your body and its physical sensations

These three easy techniques are a great way to keep you feeling calm and relaxed, even when life throws you a curve ball. Practice them regularly and see how much better you feel.

What does it Really Mean to be Stressed?

In our hectic modern lives, we often put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves and take little time to rest. Every day we are faced with problems ranging from work or financial woes to relationship worries, so it’s no wonder many of us would describe ourselves as stressed.

But what does it really mean to be stressed? And what is going on inside our bodies when we are under this kind of pressure? Read on to find out…

What is Stress?

Stress is a physiological reaction to a high pressure situation. It stems from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who would frequently be faced with life or death situations such as encountering wild animals or other, hostile tribes.

In these situations, the human body switches into “fight or flight” mode. The adrenal glands begin to produce two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Together these work to increase metal alertness and prepare our bodies for action.

Our heart rates increase, allowing more blood to be pumped to the muscles. Blood sugar levels rise, providing an extra supply of energy. Other functions such as digestion, reproduction and immunity are put on hold while we deal with the threat.

This fight or flight reaction would have been life-saving for our ancestors, allowing them to make split second decisions in the face of danger. Should they stand and fight that bear, or run away?

These days, we deal with a different kind of stress, but our bodies still react in exactly the same way. Under normal circumstances, this doesn’t cause a problem. Once the stressor has been removed, our bodies should quickly return to a state of calm. However, when we face more constant stresses, such as a never-ending project or an unreasonable colleague, real issues can start to occur.

Symptoms of Stress

Having constantly raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your system can cause what is known as chronic stress. This may lead to symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Muscle tension

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Digestive issues

  • Reduced immunity

These classic symptoms of stress are a sign that you need to stop and take a break. And while you may not be able to throw a spear at your boss, there are plenty of other things you can do to help.

A Change is as Good as a Rest

When you’re snowed under at work, it can be tempting to skip lunch and stay at your desk. However, giving yourself a short break and a change of scene can help to reset your brain and actually improve your productivity. If you can, use your lunch hour to go outside for some fresh air, and at the very least get up and stretch your legs. You may be surprised by how much difference this small act makes.

Be More Active

Exercise is one of the best ways to keep stress at bay. Some people prefer to blow off steam with high impact sports such as running or squash. Others prefer calming practices such as yoga or tai chi. Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing is that you pick something that you enjoy and do it regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes, five times a week for the best results.

Eat a Balanced Diet

When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to slip into bad eating habits, but this will only make you feel worse in the long run. Eat three meals a day to keep your energy levels constant, and choose foods which can aid your mental function such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Avoid sugary snacks as these will give you a sudden burst of energy, followed by a slump, tempting you to eat more.

Try a Relaxation Technique

Many people find relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation helpful. These techniques can feel strange and unnatural at first, but the more you practise them, the easier and more useful they become. Experiment with different techniques to find the one that suits you best.

Talk to Someone

Talking to someone you trust is a good way to process your thoughts and get emotional support. Even if they are unable to help directly, talking to someone can often help you to get things in perspective. If you are suffering from long-term stress or finding it hard to cope, consider asking a healthcare professional for help and support.

Take Time for Yourself

Finally, make time to do something you enjoy every day, even if only for half an hour. Read a book, take a bath or book a massage – whatever works for you. Never feel guilty about taking time to look after yourself, it’s just as important as any other aspect of your life.