Headache and migraine sufferers – anyone suffering from pain, for that matter – want immediate relief. That relief can come in the form of a pill, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, e.g. ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin) or prescription medication. Natural remedies such as acupuncture aren’t just an alternative – they can diminish pain and prevent recurrences – safely.

Two Good Reasons to Avoid NSAIDs and Prescription Painkillers

Reaching for a pill, though understandable when your head is pounding, has two ramifications worth considering:

1. They’re bad for your kidneys (and other parts of you).

The National Kidney Foundation points out that “NSAIDs may cause an increased risk of sudden kidney failure and even progressive kidney damage.” This is due to the role of prostaglandins: under normal conditions, prostaglandins dilate blood vessels that lead to the kidneys. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs block prostaglandins and cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the kidneys. This can lead to acute kidney injury, putting those with high blood pressure or existing kidney issues particularly at risk.

Prescription medications come with a whole laundry list of side effects – from diarrhea and dizziness to nightmares and addiction. Not to mention unknown long-term effects.

2. They don’t prevent your headaches and migraines from coming back.

Whether it’s an NSAID or prescription medication – neither one treats the root cause.

The biggest lesson for patients coming in for acupuncture for the first time is grasping this distinction: acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) aim for both immediate relief and – just as importantly – long-term prevention.

How Can Acupuncture Give Immediate Relief and Lasting Prevention of Headaches and Migraines?

Acupuncture Works with Our Bioelectricity

Dr. Daniel Hsu, LAc of New York AcuHealth Acupuncture explains, “acupuncture points are designated areas of electrical sensitivity. Points are also in and around nerve bundles and concentrations of mast cells. Inserting needles at these points stimulates sensory receptors, and this in turn stimulates nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. These hormones are thought to be 200 times more potent than morphine.”

Dr. Hsu goes on to explain why acupuncture is effective in treating hormonally-related headaches and migraines: “Acupuncture isn’t just about releasing these natural pain-killers. Endorphins play a significant role in the hormonal system, and regulating that system through acupuncture and Chinese medicine helps us achieve a deeper, longer-lasting and healthy balance in the body.”

This also explains why, to their surprise, patients find relief from a whole range of conditions they didn’t come in for, including low back pain, arthritis, PMS and infertility.

Acupuncture Works to Relax and Regulate

The substances released as a result of acupuncture relax the body, and also regulate serotonin in the brain, which affects emotional states. Other physiological effects include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count, which supports the immune system.

Chinese Medical Diagnosis + Treatment = Lasting Changes

All these biochemical effects from acupuncture may sound impressive, but the real magic starts before the acupuncture treatment even begins.

Chinese medical diagnosis stems from a complex and sophisticated system dating back many thousands of years. Because longevity was and still is central to this system of medicine, modern acupuncturists continue to take the patient’s whole health into consideration. This begins with the first visit.

New acupuncture patients typically find the intake process unique compared to a regular doctor visit. That’s because TCM is less about squeezing in 15-minute increments of medical codes to fit insurance billing requirements. It is about investigating internal and external factors of the patient’s condition – by asking questions, listening, observing the tongue and feeling the pulses – and this all takes time.

All this questioning and observing allows the practitioner to see what’s going on at a deeper level: in the organ systems, in the blood, in the vital fluids and qi (“chee”). This in turn gives the practitioner an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Chinese medical diagnoses may sound foreign, even poetic. A patient’s diagnosis for migraine might be liver yang rising with underlying yin deficiency. Treatment in the form of acupuncture point selection, number of acupuncture sessions, herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle modifications and other therapies are prescribed to balance out the system.

With Balance, Illness Cannot Exist

We understand that homeostasis equals balance. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is about achieving balance by investigating in a very precise manner, what needs boosting in the system, what needs reducing and what needs regulating.

Unlike a pill, acupuncture isn’t a “one and done” approach. A major key to the success of treatment is to get regular, consecutive acupuncture sessions that aren’t spread too far apart.

While many patients approach acupuncture as a “well, I’ve tried everything else” last resort, TCM and acupuncture have been used to treat headaches effectively for thousands of years. Unlike NSAIDs or prescription drugs which chemically block your body’s pain signals, acupuncture works to gently balance the whole body.

This is why it truly is possible to relieve headaches and migraines with acupuncture – for good.