Migraine relief & acupuncture

Migraine Trust Art

Migraine Trust Art

What is migraine?

Migraine attacks are painful and disabling. They often include nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and sound, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days with a throbbing and pulsing pain, most often felt on one side of the head (IHS 2004). The effects on day-to-day life can be overwhelming and disruptive, and once an episode of migraine has been triggered it can increase the tendency to experience further episodes.

What causes migraine?

Despite being a common disorder (3.5 cases per 1000 person years and 2.5 times higher in women than men) migraine headaches remain a mystery to the medical profession, but researchers have identified some possible underlying causes:

  • central nervous system disorders
  • irregularities in the brain’s blood vessel or vascular system
  • genetic tendencies to getting migraine.


16a2464e20701f1bdc323db2a9014232Despite the cause of migraine being poorly understood, most migraine sufferers learn their own personal triggers for migraine. These often include:

  • salty or highly processed food
  • skipping meals
  • alcohol and caffeine
  • artificial sweeteners such as aspartame
  • ‘sensory overload’ such as loud noises, strong smells or bright lights
  • hormonal changes
  • stress, both physical (eg excessive exercise) and psychological (including lack of or irregular sleep routine).

Alongside avoiding such triggers, medication is also tried – commonly beta-blockers, amitriptyline and sodium valporate – in an attempt to reduce attack frequency, but these drugs are all associated with adverse effects (DTB 1998).

Can acupuncture help your migraine?

acupuncture-picThere have now been a number of high quality research trials published looking at the effect of acupuncture for migraine and the results suggest that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment or basic care for migraine. Interestingly, acupuncture appears to be as effective as drug therapy.

When the cost of acupuncture is calculated, acupuncture has been found to be cost-effective in preventing and alleviating symptoms of acute migraine attacks. There also appear to be few unpleasant side-effects to acupuncture, compared to standard migraine medication.

How much does acupuncture help? The average response to 12 sessions of acupuncture reduces the frequency of migraine headache attacks by nearly 50%. Researchers have also found that migraine sufferers coping mechanisms improve in addition to their migraine symptoms reducing, after a course of acupuncture. In the clinic we see migraine sufferers who will often comment that acupuncture is the only treatment that ‘really works’ for them.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture has an effect on the nervous system both locally where the needles are placed and in the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – where a ‘turning down of the volume’ or ‘damping’ effect occurs. The areas of the brain that control the ‘emotional-unpleasant’ aspects of pain are also affected by acupuncture. Acupuncture can also lower the sensitivity of the neck muscles that often feel tight and sore before, during and after episodes of migraine.

Is acupuncture safe?

acupuncture-pic2Acupuncture is extremely safe with the most frequent side-effects being very minor bruising or bleeding usually on removing the needle in 3 out of every 100 treatments.  Even more rarely existing symptoms can become aggravated (1 in 100 treatments) but usually for no more than a couple of days. Indeed acupuncture often makes migraine sufferers feel relaxed and occasionally euphoric. Transmission of blood borne diseases is 100% avoided by using single use sterile disposable needles.


The available evidence suggests that a course of acupuncture consisting of at least six treatment sessions can be a valuable option for people with migraine. In addition acupuncture is safe and appears to have less side effects than migraine medication.

Next steps

The Tonbridge Clinic

Chris Worsfold

Chris Worsfold specialises in the treatment of headache, neck pain and whiplash injury. You can read about Chris here. He offers a ‘Migraine Relief Program’ at The Tonbridge Clinic that consists of:

  • a 45 minute in-depth initial assessment of your migraine history, migraine triggers and lifestyle factors (eg activity levels, downtime and sleep quality).
  • a discussion of your suitability for a course of acupuncture
  • 6 or 12 sessions of acupuncture
  • a thorough and comprehensive physiotherapy examination of your neck and upper back evaluating the mobility and strength of your neck
  • exercises to increase neck strength will be prescribed if indicated
  • relaxation training / hypno-relaxation training to decrease stress will be provided if indicated

The Migraine Relief Program costs £53 for the 45 minute initial assessment with Chris. Following the initial assessment you can choose between a 6 or 12-session package: the 6-session acupuncture package costs £270 (10% saving compared to paying for individual sessions). The 12 session acupuncture package costs £510 (15% saving compared to paying for individual sessions).

You can contact The Tonbridge Clinic’s Chris Worsfold here or phone 01732 350 255 to discuss your questions.

Further resources

Read the Cochrane review findings on the effectiveness of acupuncture for migraine here

Listen to the Cochrane Podcast discussing the effectiveness of acupuncture for migraine:

‘Cochrane’ is a global independent network of researchers who produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest. Cochrane reviews are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based healthcare.


  • Becker C et al. Migraine incidence, comorbidity and health resource utilization in the UK. Cephalalgia 2008;28:57-64.
  • Diener HC. et al. Efficacy of acupuncture for the prophylaxis of migraine: a multicentre randomised controlled clinical trial. Lancet Neurol. 2006 Apr;5(4):310-6.
  • IHS 2004. Headache Classification Subcommittee of the International Headache Society. The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 2nd edition. Cephalalgia 2004;24:1-160.
  • Linde K et al. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001218.
  • Linde K, Streng A, Jurgens S, Hoppe A, Brinkhaus B, Witt C et al. Acupuncture for patients with migraine: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2005;293(17):2118-25.
  • Managing migraine. Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 1998;36:41-44
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.  Headaches in over 12s: diagnosis and management 2012 (updated 2015)
  • Olesen J et al. Funding of headache research in Europe. Cephalalgia 2007;27:995-9.
  • Vickers A. et al. Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial BMJ 2004;328;744-9.
  • Wonderling D et al. Cost effectiveness analysis of a randomised trial of acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care. BMJ 2004;328;747.