Chances are that you or someone you know suffers from migraine headaches. About 37 million Americans get migraines, with almost three million people getting them on a regular basis. While most of us get a headache from time to time, migraines are in a class all by themselves, and are actually considered to be neurological events that move through stages, not headaches at all.
The stages of a migraine include:
- The Prodromal stage, which is a fancy term for a pre-headache. You may feel a little out of sorts, fatigued, or have weird food cravings.
- The Aura stage involves neurological changes, most commonly in the form of vision problems, including light flashes, seeing stars, blind spots, and blurriness. Other senses may also be affected, and your speech or hearing may be affected or you may feel confused. This generally happens up to an hour before the headache actually kicks in, but many migraine sufferers don’t experience this stage at all.
- The main attack, which involves pain that can be severe enough to lay you low for hours to days. Most commonly the pain begins on one side of your head, but may affect both sides as the attack progresses. During this stage, you may have sensitivity to light or sounds, feel nauseous, or feel chilled or feverish.
- Resolution is the period of time when your headache is going away. It may fade away slowly, or can result after vomiting, crying, or sleeping for several hours.
- Postdrome is a little bit like a headache hangover. Your headache is gone, but you’re left feeling pretty drained. This stage has been described as a little bit like a shadow headache—not really there, but you can still feel its effects.
Many people have chosen acupuncture to treat their migraines, and for good reason. A number of prominent research studies have concluded that acupuncture is a valuable option in reducing the frequency of migraines and preventing future attacks.
If you turn to a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat your migraines, they will first determine the underlying pattern, or imbalance, that’s causing them. While there are a number of patterns or combinations of patterns that can cause migraines, there are two that are the most common culprits.
One pattern is related to your Liver, which is the Chinese organ that regulates the free flow of your body’s systems and substances. This includes the movement of your muscles, your digestion, blood flow, and even your emotions. The general direction of energetic movement in your body is to move upward slowly, like water in a plant or sap in a tree. However, sometimes that energy moves upward quickly and uncontrollably, causing a migraine. This is a Liver headache, and is often accompanied by dizziness, feeling feverish, and visual disturbances. Frequent triggers for a Liver headache include anger, stress, or emotional upsets.
A second common pattern for migraines in Chinese medicine is caused by the constriction of Blood in the area of pain—usually the blood vessels in your head. This is called Blood stagnation, and the nature of this kind of headache is that the pain is in a fixed location—it doesn’t move around—and the pain is throbbing or stabbing.
Your practitioner will ask you a number of questions to determine the exact nature of your migraines. Once they have determined the underlying cause, they will most likely treat it with acupuncture. To enhance your treatment, they may also combine other therapies, such as an herbal formula, dietary therapy, and stress reduction strategies. It’s also important to keep track of triggers, such as when your migraines occur, what you’ve eaten, weather changes, stressful situations, hydration, and sleep. All of these can be factors in causing your migraines, as well as offering up clues for treating them effectively.
Daniel Melton is a California board certified acupuncturist and herbalist. He earned a B.S. in biology, completed his Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is the founder of Melton Acupuncture in Morgan Hill, CA.