Migraines are one of the most devastating forms of headaches. With an intense throbbing sensation and persistent pain typically on one side of the head, they can incapacitate the body and last anywhere from two to 72 hours.
Treatment for migraine sufferers includes some effective over-the-counter medications that combine nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin with caffeine, physician prescribed medication including vasoconstrictors like tryptans and ergots, antiemetic’s for nausea, and opioids or glucocorticoids for pain relief. But, is it possible to self-manage recurring migraines or provide symptom relief? The Mayo Clinic suggests that nontraditional therapies like alternative medicine along with diet and lifestyle changes have shown promise in the prevention and effective treatment of migraines.
For self-care, the alternative medicine practices of acupuncture, acupressure and reflexology may be useful in migraine therapy. Each modality targets responsive points or areas on the skin’s surface to create a systemic bodily and energetic response for the relief of pain or symptoms associated with a migraine.
Acupuncture – As one of the oldest healing practices in the world, the traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture is thought to correct the imbalances in the flow of qi by removing blockages in energetic channels known as meridians. Using needles on skin reflex points, it can stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue to relieve migraine pain and symptoms. A Chinese practitioner will often focus on a collection of “head wind” and unilateral headache points along with eye, nausea and sensory disturbance relieving points. The following combinations are useful in treating migraines.
- ST8 + BL2 – Stomach 8 (ST8) is an important local point on the stomach meridian at the corner of the forehead that relieves severe headache pain. Aptly named “Head’s Binding,” it is a meeting point of the stomach and gallbladder (GB) channels and the yang linking (Yangwei) vessel that governs all yang channels of the body. Bladder 2 (BL2) is located at the inner tip of the eyebrows and is quite effective in relieving eye pain and twitching associated with migraines.
- ST8 + GV20, 21, 23, 24 + TW23 + GB 4 – This combination of points is powerhouse of relief. A skilled acupuncturist will use the stomach, gallbladder and two specialized meridians called the Governing Vessel (GV) and Triple Warmer (TW) to treat chronic migraines. The GV points are particularly effective for balancing one-sided head wind and TW23 works to regulate the temperature of the body. GB4 is useful if there is tenderness at the hairline or dizziness from the migraine.
Acupressure – Acupressure uses the same reflex points as acupuncture, but the areas are stimulated with gentle pressure using fingers, hands or small seeds in place of needles. Points can be held, rubbed or tapped until a change in temperature, sensitivity, pain or pulse is observed. For migraine sufferers whose head and temples are particularly sensitive, three clusters of self-applied acupressure points on the neck, the base of the head and extremities such as the hands and feet are useful.
- GB21 – GB21 is located bilaterally at the base of the neck between the clavicle and the shoulders. It is a successful acupressure point for relieving muscle tension associated with migraines and it is easily accessible for self-application. Massaging and holding GB21 may relieve the muscle response during a migraine that induces vasoconstriction and it can redirect the blocked energy to the area for pain relief.
- GB20 + GV16 – Another great point along the gallbladder meridian is GB20. Located in the hollow depressions at the base of the skull to the right and the left of the spine, GB20 treats exterior or interior wind. It is particularly effective in reducing dizziness, eye pain and neck stiffness often observed with migraines. GB20 can be stimulated by gently pressing each thumb onto the point or by placing a tennis ball underneath the base of the skull and resting on it until relief is felt. When used in conjunction with GV16, located at the center of the base of the skull along the cervical vertebrae, migraine symptoms such as dizziness, earache and eye pain can be quelled.
- LI4 + SI2, SI3, SI4 – One of the most familiar points for relieving headaches and migraines lies along the large intestine meridian. Known as the “Hoku,” LI4 governs qi and is responsible for drawing it downward along the meridian in the body and reducing inflammation. LI4 is also an excellent way to relieve migraine-associated nausea. To activate it, apply pressure with the opposing hand’s thumb onto the soft, fleshy mound between the thumb and the index finger of the target hand, with your fingers placed on the outside near the pinky finger along the small intestine meridian. This cluster of points can help relieve inflammation and vomiting associated with migraines.
- LV3 + GB43 – Last, but not least, two acupressure points on the feet can help clear excess heat during a migraine. According to Chinese medicine, the liver is considered a fire organ and heat often stagnate qi along the liver meridian. Liver 3 is a critical point for breaking up this heat and restoring balance to the body. Located just below the joining of the large toe and second toe, LV3 is a source point that grants access to several internal and external energies in larger systems. LV3 can be used in conjunction with another heat relieving point, Gallbladder 43. GB43 is at the end of the gallbladder meridian at the junction of the fourth and fifth toes. When stimulated, it can draw migraine heat that has risen to the head back down the body and dispel it.
Reflexology – Known as zone therapy, reflexology is a system of areas on the surface of the feet, hands and ears that when stimulated, can effect a physical change in a specific organ, region or body part. With traces of its origin in Egyptian tombs and evidence of its use in the writings of Hippocrates, reflexology was introduced to the Western world in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, MD, and popularized in the 1930s and 1940s by the nurse and physiotherapist Eunice Ingham. Six reflex regions on the feet are easy to access for migraine sufferers and may provide significant relief when stimulated or massaged.
- Liver Reflex Region – Since much of a migraine is caused by body heat rising to the head, stimulating the liver region of the feet will help to relieve this action. Located about a third of the way down on the plantar surface of the right foot, work this area to reduce heat and assist the liver in detoxifying foods and allergens associated with migraines.
- Spinal Reflex Region – Targeting the nervous system with reflexology is an effective way of reducing inflamed nerves during a migraine. Work the spinal reflex region found on the medial side of each foot to provide pain relief and encourage relaxation by the parasympathetic nervous system. Stimulating this region can also be useful prophylactically, in between migraines, to reduce their frequency.
- Brain & Head Reflex Region – To go straight to the source of reflexes that will help alleviate head pain during a migraine, apply pressure, rub or lightly massage the brain and head reflexes. These areas are located on the medial and lateral sides and the tops of the big toes.
- Solar Plexus Region – Another excellent area to encourage mental and physical relaxation is at the solar plexus point. This is a unique region in reflexology since it is considered a huge energy source and the point of multiple system convergences. To stimulate the solar plexus, gently press just under the ball of the foot between the second and third toes.
- Kidney & Adrenals Reflex Region – Chronic migraines are often a result of adrenal overstimulation. Regularly massaging the kidney and adrenal gland reflex regions will encourage detoxification and circulation throughout the body. These regions can be found two-thirds down the bottom of the feet, close to the medial arch.
- Auditory & Visual Reflex Regions – Dizziness, eye strain, nausea and visual disturbances frequently accompany migraines. To help relieve these painful symptoms, work the area at the base of the fourth toe on the bottom of the foot where the ear and eye reflex regions are located.
By: Julie A. Cerrato, PhD AP CYT CAT