Every day in the UK 200.000 people will be lying low with a migraine. These can last from a few hours to several days. They are debilitating as people can’t go about their daily lives.

There are different types of headaches. Generally there are two categories:

  • The first is called the primary headache disorder and includes migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headaches.
  • The second is based on their causes, called secondary headache disorders. This would include headaches associated with a head injury, stroke, substance misuse and/or their withdrawal (including alcohol), infection, disorders of the neck, eyes, nose, sinuses or teeth.

How is a headache different form a migraine?

There is a difference between a headache and a migraine headache. Headaches are not usually accompanied by other symptoms associated with migraine. However, it is quite likely that if you have migraine you will also experience other headaches.


Headaches can vary greatly in their duration, cause and severity. A hangover headache, for example goes within a few hours and headaches associated with an infectious illness improve when the illness is over.

It is really important to identify the type of headache you have so you can get the right sort of treatment and advice. A headache can be the result of a whole variety of factors such as head injuries, infections and other medical conditions.


In general terms, migraines are experienced as a headache of at least moderate severity usually on one side of the head and occurring with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise (though some people experience migraine without headache). The headache is usually made worse by physical activity. Migraines usually last from 4 to 72 hours and in most cases there is complete freedom from symptoms between attacks. Certain factors are involved in triggering an attack in those predisposed to migraine. These are usually called “trigger factors” and can include lifestyle, and hormonal changes.

If you get headaches regularly it is advisable to consult your GP.

How can acupuncture help?

Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine by:

  • Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins  and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord
  • Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors
  • Reducing the degree of cortical spreading depression (an electrical wave in the brain associated with migraine)
  • Modulating extracranial and intracranial blood flow
  • Affecting serotonin

Please also see the British Acupuncture Council for more information.

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