Migraines are headaches with recurrent attacks, and can last for several days. They are sometimes  preceded by a visual aura and can involve nausea and vomiting. The headache is usually on one side of the head, perhaps around the temple, and is often severe and maybe pounding. Migraines affect around 15% of adults, and for many of these people the symptoms are incapacitating; sufferers may have to lie down in a dark and quiet room and wait for the headache to subside.

Sometimes migraines may be triggered by such things as certain foods, stress, bright lights or loud noise. Some women are more likely to get a migraine just before or during their period. More often than not, however, there is no obvious trigger to a migraine attack.


Migraine andTCM

Migraines in TCM most commonly arise because of a relative excess of Yang energy. It is in the nature of Yang to rise, and if this rising is unchecked by insufficient Yin, this is what happens—Yang energy rises up along one or more meridians until it gets to the head, where it has nowhere else to go, and where it therefore, as it were, bangs against the head, causing the typical throb of a migraine headache.

So in the first instance treatment needs to root the Yang, hold it down, and stop it rising up ‘rebelliously’. Acupuncture is usually an effective means to this end.

Moreover, treatment also needs to address the imbalance which is causing the Yang to rise. This often means that the Yin energy needs to be nourished, and for this acupuncture as well as perhaps herbal therapy will be used, but we will also need to support this treatment by eating Yin nourishing foods and perhaps by appropriate rest and relaxation, for whereas Yang is the active and dynamic side of our nature, Yin is the quiet, reflective side. Modern life can therefore mean that our Yin gets a raw deal!

Another factor causing the Yang to rise is what we call Qi Stagnation. Here the Qi is not flowing freely, often due to stress and tension, and this makes it more likely that the Yang Qi will rush upwards. Acupuncture and appropriate exercise and self-expression will free up the Qi and help stop the migraines.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Migraine?

A recent large scale trial involving 400 patients in GP practices1 found that acupuncture was more than twice as effective as the standard (western medical) treatment for chronic headaches (of all kinds), and resulted in better improvement in quality of life; this trial recommended that acupuncture should be more widely available for headache patients on the NHS and concluded that: “Acupuncture leads to persisting, clinically relevant benefits for primary care patients with chronic headache, particularly migraine”

A more recent and very large scale trial in Germany2, with almost 800 migraine sufferers participating, also found acupuncture to be more effective than pharmacological treatment in the prevention of chronic headache and migraine.


1Vickers A et al (2004) Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial BMJ  2004;328:744


2Endres et al (2007) Acupuncture for the Treatment of Chronic Headaches Dtsch Arztebl 2007; 104(3): A 114–22


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.