Acupuncture for Headaches and Migraines

Acupuncture has always been a popular choice for people suffering with headaches and migraines –  in 2016 however I’ve really noticed a huge increase in the number of people coming to see me, so time I sat down and wrote about how I use acupuncture to help.

Starting off with headaches (as opposed to migraines) – the most common I see is ‘tension type headaches’ which often feel like the band of tightness or pressure across the sides of the head and forehead. They can affect the sides of the face and eyes too and most of us will have experienced these headaches a few times in our lives. They can be triggered by stress, dehydration and low blood sugar and will pass in time. However when these occasional headaches become frequent or even constant they really start in interfere with your quality of life and many people feel unhappy about taking pain relief for these headaches on a daily basis.

In my experience I have not yet (in 8 years of practice) seen a chronic tension headache sufferer without a significant degree of muscular tension somewhere in their neck and upper back muscles. My first step is to relieve the tension in the muscles supporting the head – using cupping therapy and more frequently Tui-Na on the sides and front aspects of the neck where cupping and acupuncture would be inappropriate. I think most of my patients would agree that it is pretty painful the first couple of times I work on these muscles, but that it soon becomes more tolerable – and the headaches decrease in severity at the same time. I use acupuncture for general tension and trigger points in the upper back, often the trapezius muscle is affected and sometimes into the forehead and jaw. I even find little trigger points all over the scalp sometimes and loosening off the scalp with massage and acupuncture is probably the most enjoyable part of the session. It’s important that my patients practice gentle neck stretches in between appointments and become aware of their posture if doing a desk based job for example.

From the view of Chinese medicine these headaches are often diagnosed as Liver Qi stagnation – the Qi or energy has got stuck and cannot flow properly through the meridians in the head and face. Liver Qi is most easily affected by strong emotions including stress, frustration and anger and for women the reproductive hormones can also affect Liver Qi. I add in acupuncture points often on the feet and legs that encourage the Liver Qi to get moving again. Broadly speaking I find acupuncture and Tui-Na to be very effective for tension type headaches and would expect most patients to see a significant improvement within 4-6 weekly sessions.

Coming on to migraines, which in themselves can vary hugely and include other problems such as vomiting and aura. In Chinese medicine migraines again involve the Liver Qi – though the diagnosis is often Liver Yang Rising or Liver Fire. The approach to try and let the body release tension gently and consistently so it doesn’t build up like a pressure cooker which suddenly pops. Once a migraine is established there is little you can do bar wait it out so it’s about using acupuncture to prevent them in the time between. I use the similar approach for migraines as I do with headaches – firstly loosening off all the upper back, neck and scalp tension and I find this reduces the symptom of pain dramatically in most patients. It’s important to include acupuncture points around the body that support that persons constitution and to look more closely at underlying triggers, whether they be food, light or hormonal fluctuations. Interestingly Chinese medicine relates smooth digestive functioning to be important in preventing migraines and a recent study looked at the gut bacteria in migraine vs non migraine sufferers finding a significant difference.

While a tension type headache can be more painful than a migraine and a migraine may present without pain but just visual disturbances – tension headaches do respond better and quicker than migraines most of the time. One of the biggest differences I would say is that with tension headaches I can really just focus on the area of pain from a physical aspect and still see good results. With migraine sufferers you often need to dramatically change your daily lifestyle and approach to life alongside acupuncture to see the best results.

Always speak with your GP if you suffer with chronic headaches – or suddenly experience a new headache which does not go away after a few days. Occasionally headaches can be a sign of something more serious so get their advice. If you’d like to try acupuncture for your headache or if you’d like to speak with me prior to booking in please ring clinic reception on 01603 665173 or email reception@holistic-care.com marked FAO Kate McDougall

Fertility statistics 2012-2013

2013 is not quite over yet – but here are the initial results from all women trying to conceive using acupuncture in the past 24 months. As well as acupuncture, patients were given advice on diet, lifestyle and over the counter herbal preparations. Please take notice of the inclusion criteria for each group. The most common reasons for women not being included in the statistics are;

i) Not having regular acupuncture sessions over 6 months (defined at the initial consultation as being between 2-3 sessions per month depending on the individual case).

ii) Not keeping in touch – so outcomes are currently unknown

GROUP 1 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 35 and under. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months. Several women have been included twice (due to initial miscarriage and then restarting acupuncture).

83% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 20% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks, (all women who experienced miscarriage recommenced acupuncture and are either currently in their 2nd or 3rd trimester OR are starting another 6 month course of acupuncture).

GROUP 2 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 36 and over. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months.

67% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 25% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks – all were over 44 years of age.

GROUP 3 – IVF Support for Women aged 35 and under. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

80% got a positive pregnancy test

All women in this group started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before any IVF medication. There were no reported incident of miscarriage in this group.

20% did not get a positive pregnancy test

None of the women in this group started acupuncture before the IVF medication

Group 4 – IVF Support for Women aged 36 and over. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

89% of women got a positive pregnancy test

All of these women had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication. The miscarriage rate in this group was 13% (all before 12 weeks).

11% of women did not have a positive pregnancy test after 4 weeks.

All of these women also had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication.

Group 5 – Pregnancy rates within The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership. To be included in these statistics couples must commit to 12 months of regular appointments. Couples not included in these statistics are those that failed to keep to their given schedule and did not continue past the first block.

Couples whereby the woman is 35 and under – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Couples whereby the woman is 36 and over – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Currently the longest time it has taken for a couple to achieve pregnancy from the initial start date is 10 months.

 

 

Does Acupuncture help you conceive? Results from 18 months of fertility acupuncture in Norwich

Here is a summary of the outcomes of female fertility clients seen in the last 18 months.

All maintained terms of treatment – regular acupuncture 2-3 times per month for up to 12 months.
All were with partners whose sperm sample came back within normal range.

The women themselves had a variety of underlying conditions – mainly hormone imbalances such as those found in PCOS, raised FSH and low AMH levels suggesting ovarian reserve was low. Some women were simply non-specified subfertile. Included are women who may have unsuccessfully undergone IVF treatment previously

None had been diagnosed with a blockage in either oviduct.

None were also using Clomid at time of acupuncture.

 

                                           Pregnancy rate           No pregnancy          Miscarriage rate
Women aged 35 and under               100%                            0%                             0%*
Women aged 36 and over                    50%                           50%                            0%*

*as far as is known. Most women continue with acupuncture throughout the 1st trimester.

Length of acupuncture treatment before positive pregnancy test ranged from 2 – 10 months.
Not included in this sample are women who started acupuncture but choose to discontinue for unknown reasons.

So the results look promising! I notice that the common link between all the woman who do fall pregnant whilst using acupuncture is their long term commitment to changing the environment within their body – They implement lifestyle and dietary changes that I suggest, they observe the changes in their menstruation and they stick to the regular acupuncture sessions. In short they take charge of their fertility and it is them – not the acupuncture who ultimately are responsible for their positive result.

Acupuncture and Womens’ Health

Women often first visit me with their chief complaint being pain around the time of menstruation. Most of us accept a small amount of tension in the lower abdomen as normal and can even welcome mild uterine cramping as a signal that the body is working as it should, ready to release a build-up of emotional and physical tension. However for some women the pain is unbearable – and often is due to underlying gynaecological factors. Primary dysmenorrhea – (pain with no underlying complications) is often helped by combining gentle exercise and a couple of acupuncture sessions in the 12 days leading up to the onset of bleeding. The women I see often report an easing of other premenstrual related issues such as headaches and heavy limbs.

Most commonly the past year I have seen women suffering with endometriosis which can cause pelvic pain throughout the cycle but particularly bad at ovulation and menstruation. I often see women frustrated and exhausted after finding the conventional approach of contraceptive pills and pain killers is simply not providing relief. Regular acupuncture sessions combined with dietary advice can yield fantastic results in a very short time. I tend to needle points on the lower abdomen, using an infra red heat lamp overhead to warm and relax the tissues – often there is immediate relief as the circulation is improved and local parasympathetic activity encouraged.

The third most common type of pelvic pain I see in the acupuncture clinic – is symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), often triggered in late pregnancy. Very few needles are inserted into the fleshy parts of the hips and legs to affecting the pelvic girdle nerves.

Chinese medicine has a long history of addressing women’s health issues – encouraging us to use each menstruation as a guide to our inner wellbeing and overall health. For an acupuncturist each cycle gives a summary of how a woman has lived her life in the previous weeks, a reflection of both physical and emotional activities. It really is an incredible tool to for the physician to use in understanding each woman as unique – as each cycle can vary wildly in its nature from month to month.

Acupuncture can be used safely alongside conventional medicine and poses very few side effects. If you are considering acupuncture arrange to discuss with Kate or your GP as to whether it is suitable for your condition.