With a more than a 3,000 year history, acupuncture is a reliable and low-risk method for pain relief. It was first introduced in China and spread throughout Asia before making its way westward to Europe and the United States. Partly due to its ancient history and efficacy, acupuncture has been acknowledged by both the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization as an effective alternative treatment for a variety of chronic pain conditions.
Acupuncture centers on the idea of channeling the body’s natural energy, known as qi. This energy flows through 12 meridians of the body, which acupuncturists are trained to map and understand. These channels are divided along a line that represents masculine and feminine energy, known as the yin and yang. Three yang meridians are in the upper extremities and three are in the lower extremities. There is an equal balance of yin in these areas of the body as well. In addition, there are eight non-designated meridians in the body. When there is disease, pain, or distress in the body the flow of energy is blocked or imbalanced. Acupuncturists will insert fine needles at very specific points along these energy channels to help the correct flow of energy resume.
In the United States, acupuncture was first described by James Reston, a New York Times reporter, in 1971. While on an assignment in China he became ill with appendicitis. While his surgical treatment was conventional and his appendix was removed, his post-operative care was augmented with acupuncture to help ease the pain. In July of that year he wrote an article that detailed the experience and introduced the Western world to this Eastern medicine.
How acupuncture works
Acupuncture is an elegant medical art. Practitioners use sterilized disposable needles on the body to help rebalance the flow of qi. The needles are very thin and solid which allows them to slide into the skin easily. The insertion of the needle is not typically considered painful and most patients say they never feel the tiny needles as they are tapped into their skin. In fact, most people consider the treatments relaxing while others feel the energy stimulation.
Some acupuncturists are also trained in a practice called moxibustion where the needles are warmed with incense before placed on the body. There is also a form of acupuncture where electrical stimulation is used on the needles. This practice has been performed since the 1930s.
The practitioner will work with their patients to determine where to focus the acupuncture for the best pain relief specific to the patient’s needs. A typical treatment will last for 20 to 30 minutes.
Ultimately, we don’t really know exactly how acupuncture works, although we are gaining new insight every year. It appears that acupuncture sends signals physiologically through the body’s neurotransmitters which then restore the natural balance. Without the presence of a specific condition in need of treatment, or energy realignment, the practice does not work.
There are very few risks reported with acupuncture and many of them date back to a time before single-use, sterilized needles. Since sterile practices were adopted universally, the risks dropped dramatically. What risks that remain are usually caused by individuals who are not trained properly. Before seeking acupuncture treatment, thoroughly research the clinic and practitioner.
How acupuncture can relieve head pain
For people dealing with the effects of chronic head pain, such as migraines, acupuncture can be an excellent alternative to medications or invasive treatments. It may also work in conjunction to traditional medicine.
Research in the early part of the new century indicated that head pain was extremely susceptive to the relief provided by acupuncture. The results showed that patients who were given acupuncture treatments had fewer days of head pain, used less medication, and required fewer visits to their doctors.
Based on this evidence, the consensus of the medical community is that acupuncture treatments won’t hurt in addition to traditional care and may, in fact, enhance the overall experience and relieve more pain than would be eliminated by medical methods. You may not be able to stop taking prescribed medications, but you could cut back which would always be considered desirable.
The most important first step is to find a licensed and reliable practitioner. The licensing requirements do vary from state to state, so look into what is required where you live. You may also want to work with someone who has been certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. You should always discuss alternative treatments like acupuncture with your doctor or specialist. They may even be able to provide you with a referral.
For head pain most treatment plans will be about six to 12 sessions. You can talk with your doctor and practitioner to develop the best treatment options for your specific needs.
There are a variety of conditions that cause head pain. They include:
- Migraine headaches
- Tension headaches
- Chronic headaches
- Cluster headaches
Having the proper medical diagnosis and treatment plan in place before pursuing alternative treatments is essential. Head pain can be a symptom of a more critical problem. If head pain occurs in conjunction with vomiting, dizziness, fever, extreme neck pain, or hypertension seek medical advice immediately.
If you seek out acupuncture treatment and find it successful, share your experience with others. Acupuncture is widely accepted in the United States but it still has an air of mystery. Shedding a light on the practice, what to expect, and the results are an important part of furthering a better understanding of this and other alternative medical treatments.
Would you use acupuncture to treat head pain?
Image by Victoria Garcia via Flickr