June is Migraine Awareness Month – and if there’s one thing the science makes us aware of it’s that the exact mechanism underlying migraine is still unknown. (1) Migraine is a significant health problem with symptoms including moderate to severe pain, hypersensitivity to light and noise, nausea or vomiting. (2) It is estimated that approximately 14% of adults worldwide suffer from migraine, (3) with many patients finding there are limited options for both pain management and prevention.
Migraine is a multifactorial and complex disorder, so there is no single treatment that is effective for every person. (1) With no “one size fits all” approach to addressing migraines, evidence-based natural therapies can offer support for many sufferers by treating the individual and helping to find their root cause.
Let’s take a look at what acupuncture, exercise and lifestyle medicine can offer.
Research shows good evidence for the use of acupuncture to manage acute migraine pain, with regular sessions reducing the frequency and severity of attacks. Compared to conventional treatments like Botox, acupuncture was found to have fewer complications and more pronounced results. The study concluded that acupuncture may be the preferred method for the treatment of migraine for effectiveness and fewer side effects. (4) Evidence suggests that acupuncture generally requires a minimum of 6–8 sessions to see a decrease in symptoms. (5)
Our resident Acupuncturist Kylie Skillen explains that migraines can indicate a lack of nourishing blood and qi (energy) to the head. “I diagnose and treat according to the quality of pain, time of onset, and which head area is affected. For example, pain in the neck/back of the head and visual disturbances can be from exposure to Wind-Cold – this area is prone to invasion from exterior pathogens which is why acupuncturists always wear scarves on cold, windy days!”
Both external and internal factors are established as part of a comprehensive diagnostic interview and Kylie considers internal factors to guide her treatment. Forehead pain indicates disharmony in the stomach, whereas pain in the temples/side of the head could be due to stress and tension.
Yoga and Aerobic Exercise
While no one is about to run a marathon or stand on their head mid-migraine, yoga and exercise as a daily practice can help to better manage migraines. A big advantage is that exercise is cost-effective and without any side effects. Yoga can maintain brain health by improving cerebral oxygenation and preventing oxidative stress. (5) Improvements in vagal tone, helping to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, was observed in patients with migraine receiving Yoga as adjuvant therapy. (6) One trial showed yoga participants had significantly greater improvement in headache frequency, intensity, and use of rescue medications. (7) Some evidence also states that aerobic physical therapy reduces the number of migraine episodes, with a tendency to decrease pain intensity and the duration of attacks. (8)
Day to day management of migraines may involve establishing healthier lifestyle practices including: (5)(8)
- Maintaining the same bedtime and wake time each day
- Consuming regular meals
- Ensuring adequate hydration
- Limiting caffeine, tobacco and alcohol
- Getting regular physical activity
- Achieving a healthy weight
- Prioritising stress management
- Limiting screen time
The use of pain-relieving medications should always be discussed with a healthcare professional such as a GP or pharmacist to ensure safety. Generally speaking, a Doctor may consider advising their patient to limit pain medication to no more than 2–3 days per week because frequent medication use can actually worsen the headache. (8)
Migraine Management to Livewell
Migraine management with natural therapies can work to support migraine sufferers as a stand-alone or alongside conventional treatments. Aside from acupuncture at the clinic, other modalities such as massage, Naturopathy and kinesiology can offer their expertise to stop the debilitating experience of migraines. We encourage you to endeavour in finding what works best for you, persevering can certainly stop the pain of migraine from persisting.
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