Finding the most effective treatment with the least harmful side effects can be a big struggle for many headache and migraine sufferers. In some cases, preventative or abortive headache medication can cause other side effects like drowsiness and dizziness. Some people opt out of taking medication all together.
If you’re prone to side effects, there are still alternative non-pharmaceutical treatments that could help reduce or treat your headaches or migraines, depending on the cause of your head pain.
According to an article in the New York Times, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrated that acupuncture can relieve chronic pain such as migraines.
“Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body,” according to Medline Plus. “This is most often done by inserting thin needles through the skin, to cause a change in the physical functions of the body.”
Dorothy Pang, an acupuncturist, said in an email that many of her patients with migraines benefit from acupuncture.
“My patients often seek acupuncture care because they do not want to take prescription medications, which tend to be so strong in side effects that they can't work or drive,” Pang said.
She said this form of treatment can reduce migraine intensity by the end of the session in some cases, but it depends on the individual for long-term effects.
“Long term effects, as in prevention of return migraines, can take several weeks to several months to happen,” Pang said.
She added that acupuncture creates a “whole system balance,” and sometimes improves other health problems like sleep and digestion.
Some studies have shown that acupuncture is no better than a placebo though. According to Reuters, a “sham” acupuncture treatment was just as helpful as a traditional acupuncture treatment.
Another option is chiropractic adjustments. According to the American Chiropractic Association’s website, spinal manipulation could relieve headaches that start in the neck.
Dr. Austin Cohen, a chiropractor and health coach, said in an email that he suggests traction for the neck to help treat headaches and migraines, as well as chiropractic adjustments.
“The patients that want to get off medicine and not be dependent on it the
rest of their life choose chiropractic and corrective care,” Cohen said.
He said that in his office they check to see how the curve of the neck changes over time through x-rays.
“The first step is to take x-rays and measure the curve in the neck, which should be 40 degrees,” Cohen said. “In today's world with people sitting all day in front of computers, sleeping poorly, and being in slouched positions, they have lost the curve in the neck, thereby putting pressure on the spinal cord.”
“The treatments we use, such as cervical traction, focuses on bringing the curve back into the neck,” he added.
“The chiropractic adjustments focus on [removing] pressure from the nerve, bringing the curve back into the neck, and increasing mobility to allow for increased neurological function.”
He said many patients notice relief quickly even after their first adjustment and don’t have migraines anymore.
Eric Christensen, a physical therapist, said in an email that he uses functional dry needling and “breathing pattern facilitation” to help treat headaches, migraines and pain. He said diaphragmatic breathing can lead to a relaxed nervous system response, which helps in pain reduction.
According to the physical therapy education site KinetaCore, dry needling “involves multiple advances of a filament needle into the muscle in the area of the body, which produces pain and typically contains a trigger point.”
The needles are thin and no medication is injected. Depending on the muscle, some patients may feel some pain when the needle goes in. The needle is used to deactivate the trigger point and reduce or remove the pain in the muscle.
“Dry needling is often associated with an immediate reduction in pain and increase in motion,” Christensen said. “Breathing pattern takes work and is something that is beneficial with consistency.”
“Dry needling is useful as it can be performed frequently as there is no medication,” he added.
Other treatment options could include food allergy testing/food elimination, massages, therapy for stress or anxiety, and a dental/eye/medical exam to make sure no other medical issues are causing headaches or migraines.
O’Connor, Anahad. The New York Times. Acupuncture Provides True Pain Relief in Study. Web. November 14, 2013.
Medline Plus. Acupuncture. Web. November 14, 2013.
Pang, Dorothy. Email interview. November 5, 2013.
American Chiropractic Association. Headaches & Chiropractic. Web. November 14, 2013.
Christensen, Eric. Email interview. November 6, 2013.
KinetaCore. Overview of Dry Needling & Functional Dry Needling Courses. Web. November 14, 2013.
Cohen, Austin. Email interview. November 5, 2013.
Norton, Amy. Reuters. Acupuncture little better than “sham” for migraine. Web. November 14, 2013.
Reviewed November 14, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
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exertion headache:January 19, 2014 - 9:44am
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