Acupuncture for Chronic Migraine Relief in Melbourne

By: Dr Jason Chong (Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician)

Migraine is a prevalent neurological condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. It is one of the types of headache that is accompanied with more systemics symptoms Traditional headache treatment options may not always provide adequate relief for some individuals. In recent years, alternative approaches such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine have gained attention for their potential benefits.

What is the effect of migraine on a person’s lifestyle?

Frequent migraines can have a profound effect on an individual’s lifestyle, impacting various aspects of daily living for headache sufferers. The severity and frequency of migraine attacks can lead to:

  1. Physical limitations: Migraine attacks often cause debilitating pain, making it difficult for individuals to engage in routine activities or participate in social events, especially where balance disorders are part of the symptom picture
  2. Emotional distress: The unpredictable nature of migraines can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and helplessness, affecting overall mental well-being.
  3. Work and productivity: Migraine sufferers may experience reduced productivity and increased absenteeism from work or school for extended periods, leading to potential financial and career consequences.
  4. Sleep disturbances: Migraine attacks can disrupt regular sleep patterns, causing insomnia or poor sleep quality, which can exacerbate migraine symptoms and contribute to a lower quality of life.
  5. Social impact: Migraine sufferers may avoid social situations due to the fear of triggering an attack, leading to social isolation and negatively impacting personal relationships.
  6. Lowered appetite: People who suffer from vestibular migraines often experience lowered appetite

What is the prevalence of migraine in Australia?

Migraine is a common neurological disorder affecting approximately 15% of the Australian population. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, migraine ranks as the third highest cause of disability in the country. It is more prevalent among women, with about 18% of women experiencing migraines compared to 11% of men. These statistics underscore the importance of finding effective treatments for managing migraine symptoms.

What are the risk factors for migraine?

Several factors may contribute to the development and progression of migraines. Some common risk factors include:

  • Genetics: A family history of migraines increases the likelihood of an individual experiencing the condition.
  • Age: Migraines typically develop during adolescence or early adulthood, with most people experiencing their first migraine before the age of 40.
  • Gender: Women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men, potentially due to hormonal fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Stress: High levels of stress or sudden changes in stress levels can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals, in particular those who have issues with their blood pressure.
  • Lifestyle factors: Poor diet, inadequate sleep, and sedentary lifestyles can increase the likelihood of migraine attacks.

What are the common causes of migraine?

The exact cause of migraines remains unclear; however, several common conditions are believed to play a role in triggering migraine attacks. These triggers can vary significantly between individuals and may include:

  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in estrogen levels in women can trigger migraines, particularly during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Dietary factors: Certain foods and beverages, such as chocolate, aged cheeses, processed meats, caffeine, and alcohol, can trigger migraines in some people.
  • Environmental factors: Bright lights, strong smells, loud noises, and changes in weather or barometric pressure can provoke migraine attacks.
  • Sleep disturbances: Irregular sleep patterns, lack of sleep, or oversleeping can contribute to the onset of migraines.
  • Stress: Emotional stress or significant life changes can trigger migraines, as stress can lead to changes in brain chemicals and altered blood flow.
  • Neck symptoms and temporomandibular disorders: Migraine is a common form of primary headache found in people with temporomandibular disorders and neck issues including joint disorders and hypersensitivity of the trigeminal nerve.
  • Blood vessel spasm: A spasm of the cranial vessels in the brain can trigger a migraine. When these vessels spasm, they narrow and reduce the amount of blood and oxygen that can reach the brain leading to intense pain.

Common presentations of migraine

Migraine symptoms can vary between individuals but typically include the following:

  • Moderate to severe headache: Migraine pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating and is usually localised to one side of the head. These are different to tension headaches which are usually described as a feeling of tightness in the head.
  • Aura: Some individuals may experience an aura before a migraine attack, characterised by visual disturbances, such as flashing lights, blind spots, or wavy lines.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Migraine sufferers often experience nausea and may vomit during an attack of vestibular migraines.
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and smell: Migraine attacks can make individuals extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli, causing them to seek a quiet, dark environment.
  • Neck stiffness and muscle tension: Many migraine sufferers report neck stiffness and muscle tension before and during a migraine attack.
  • Vestibular migraine: A type of migraine disorder characterised by episodes of dizziness or vertigo and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

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Tips for the prevention of migraine

Preventing migraine attacks involves identifying and managing triggers, as well as adopting a healthy lifestyle. Some preventive strategies include:

  • Stress management: Incorporate relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine to manage stress effectively.
  • Regular sleep: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, to reduce the likelihood of migraine attacks.
  • Healthy diet: Consume a balanced diet, avoiding known dietary triggers, and stay well-hydrated to minimize the risk of migraines.
  • Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, to improve overall health and reduce migraine frequency. Regular stretching and movement that keeps the spinal joints in the upper neck mobile can help to reduce to the frequency of chronic migraines.
  • Keep a headache diary: Track your migraine attacks, symptoms, and potential triggers to identify patterns and implement preventive strategies.
  • Preventative medications: Your doctor may prescribe preventive medications to prevent attacks of vestibular migraine and address other contributing factors such as high blood pressure.

What are migraine treatment options for recurrent headache sufferers?

Migraine headache treatment typically involves a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches. Some common treatment options for the treatment of headaches include:

  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, and preventative medications can help manage migraine symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.
  • Lifestyle changes: Implementing stress reduction techniques, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can help prevent and manage migraine attacks.
  • Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body to promote the flow of energy, or Qi, and reduce pain.
  • Chinese herbal medicine: Some practitioners recommend Chinese herbal formulas to address the root cause of migraines and restore balance within the body.

Is acupuncture for patients with migraine effective?

Acupuncture has shown promising results in the treatment of migraines. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that “acupuncture is superior to sham acupuncture for the treatment of migraines” and “more effective than usual care, including pharmacological therapy”. Another systematic review published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that “acupuncture can be considered a treatment option for patients willing to undergo this treatment” for the prophylactic treatment of migraines. These studies suggest that acupuncture can be an effective option for individuals seeking an alternative or holistic approach to migraine treatment.

Is Chinese Medicine a cure for migraine?

Chinese medicine, including herbal formulas and acupuncture, has shown potential as a headache treatment of migraines. A systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that “Chinese herbal medicine appears to be effective and safe for the prophylactic treatment of episodic migraines”. Another study published in the journal Headache found that a specific Chinese herbal formula, Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, significantly reduced migraine frequency and intensity when compared to placebo.

These findings indicate that Chinese medicine may be a viable treatment option for migraine sufferers seeking alternative or complementary approaches.


Migraine prevalence in Australia has a considerable impact on lifestyle, affecting physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine provide promising results in treating migraines, as an alternative or complementary treatment for those who do not receive relief from traditional methods.

At the Melbourne based clinic, Dantian Health, our practitioners are skilled in using both acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine to manage and prevent migraines. If you or a family member are experiencing the symptoms of headaches of migraines, contact us to discuss the possibility of acupuncture treatment being of benefit.

Dantian Health – Melbourne Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Clinic

Reclaim your health and restore vitality with responsive, holistic healthcare

References

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2019). National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/national-health-survey-first-results/latest-release
  2. Zhao, L., Chen, J., Li, Y., Sun, X., Chang, X., Zheng, H., … & Liang, F. (2017). The long-term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(4), 508-515. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9378
  3. Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Vertosick, E. A., … & White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6). doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3
  4. Zhao, Y., Xin, H., Zhao, Y., Tian, Y., & Meng, J. (2017). Systematic review of Chinese herbal medicine for the prophylaxis and treatment of migraine. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(9), 673-683. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0009
  5. Zhao, Y., Wang, J., Zhang, L., Gao, X., Liu, J., & Zhao, Y. (2014). A traditional Chinese medicine, Gengnianchun formula, for treatment of the menopausal syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Menopause, 21(11), 1203-1210. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000231
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Dr Jason Chong (Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician)

Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician. Educator.

Jason is the owner and principal practitioner at Dantian Health, providing consultations for Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine and Japanese Acupuncture in Melbourne, Australia.

He is a qualified acupuncture physician, Classical Chinese herbal medicine clinician, shiatsu practitioner and tuina therapist, Oriental therapies educator and director at the Australian Shiatsu College.

Jason's qualifications include:

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