What are migraines?

For people dealing with recurrent migraines, the pain and pressure associated with a migraine attack are usually described as debilitating, blinding and intense.  Migraines are moderate to severely intense headaches that typically last several hours.  They can be pulsating and are often felt on one side of the head.  They can be associated with nausea or vomiting.  In addition, they are often associated with sensitivity to light and sound.  Some people experience episodic migraines, which are less frequent, while others suffer with chronic migraines, which happen 15 or more times per month.  If you suffer from migraines, there are strategies you can use to help reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms you experience. 

How can I try to prevent a migraine attack?

Sleep well:  Migraines are often triggered by poor sleep.  Try to establish a good sleep routine and stick to it.  Make it a point to relax at the end of the day.  Minimize distractions in your bedroom so that you are able to fall asleep easily.  Your bedroom should be for sleep and intimacy only.  Do not keep a television, computer or other electronic distraction in your bedroom.

Eat healthy:  Migraines are associated with poor nutrition.  It is important to eat regular meals and avoid skipping meals.  You should try to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.  In addition, there are specific foods that can trigger migraine attacks.  Avoid aged cheeses, caffeine, chocolate and alcohol as these foods are known to trigger attacks.

Engage in moderate exercise:  Moderate intensity exercise is known to block pain receptors in the brain and reduce stress hormone levels in the body, which will help reduce onset of migraine attacks.  It is important to begin an exercise routine slowly, as too vigorous a workout can trigger a migraine.

Simplify your life and find ways to reduce stress:  Migraines are associated with episodes of high levels of stress and chronic stress.  Try to find ways to reduce the stress in your life, by reducing your commitments, taking a break from work during your day and decreasing how much you worry.  Find ways to relax through diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and yoga. 

What are some suggestions to cope with a migraine attack?

If you find yourself dealing with a migraine attack, try one of these strategies to get through it:

Turn off the lights:  Light can increase the intensity of a migraine and can be a trigger for migraine onset.  Turn the lights off and close your eyes.

Try hot or cold compresses:  For some people, applying heat or ice packs to the back of the neck or on the forehead can help alleviate pain.

Try a gentle temple massage:  Take three fingers and apply light, circular massage to the sides of your head.  This can decrease pain associated with tension.

Find a quiet space:  Move to a room with no sounds or very little noise.  As sounds can trigger migraine attacks, removing noise can help decrease the length of the migraine attack.

Can acupuncture reduce migraine pain?

Yes!  Researchers have published data which shows that acupuncture reduces pain levels in acute migraine attacks.  In a study published in 2012, researchers looked to determine if true acupuncture was superior to sham acupuncture for pain reduction in acute migraine attacks.  They followed 150 people over a two year time period and randomly assigned them to acupuncture verses sham acupuncture groups.  When an acute migraine attack came on, one group received true acupuncture and the other group of participants received sham (fake) acupuncture treatment.  They rated outcomes by patient’s report of pain using the visual analog scale.  This scale is used to rate pain from 0-10.  Those receiving true acupuncture reported a decrease in pain on average of 2 ½ numbers, while those with sham treatment only reported an improvement by ¾ numerical value on average.  The patients that received true acupuncture treatment reported significant improvement in pain symptoms over those that had sham treatment.

Wang et al. Efficacy of acupuncture for acute migraine attack: a multicenter single blinded, randomized controlled trial. Pain Med. 2012 May 13):623-30.

Disclaimer: The material provided in this article is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects  discussed. It is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or  treatment of any medical problem, consult your physician or healthcare practitioner. 

A.Turchiaro 2022 ©