Acupuncture for Headaches & Migraines

Evidence-based acupuncture in support of relieving cluster headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

Acupuncture support to relieve headaches and pain.

We provide a holistic approach to acupuncture, providing support in relief of headaches, migraines, nausea, referred pain syndromes, neck and shoulder pain, and hormonal headaches.

If you’d like more information on how our acupuncture services can support you, call us on 021 081 59228 or make a booking online.

"Wonderful practitioner, kind, patient and gentle. Extremely intuitive and knowledgeable when performing treatments."
Jessica Darcy

How does acupuncture help headaches and migraine?

Acupuncture works to:

  • Relax tension, release tight muscles, and deactivate trigger points in the neck and shoulders, and head.
  • Release endogenous endorphins and activate pathways in the brain to turn off pain signals
  • Address the underlying systemic causes promoting headache
  • Assess the individual holistically and provide dietary, lifestyle, and stress management advice to stabilise attacks

Acupuncturists treat the pain directly by using “headache points” on the head, hands, and feet, and by deactivating trigger points in the neck and back. They also work holistically by regulating other struggling body systems. Treatment within the clinic is given using acupuncture, cupping, gua-sha, and moxibustion, while advice is given for specific lifestyle, diet, and home-based self-care.

How long does acupuncture take to help headaches and migraine?

A course of treatment is recommended, with changes to the intensity and frequency of symptoms generally noted within 5-10 treatments. After this, treatment can be spaced at longer intervals and regular check-ins made to manage flare-ups, or during times of increased triggers, to keep symptoms managed.

Studies show twice-weekly treatment for 2 weeks, followed by weekly treatments for 8 weeks, reducing and 2 following treatments over 4 weeks resulted in a clinically significant reduction in chronic headache and migraine at 12 months.

Is acupuncture safe?

The safety profile of acupuncture is excellent, with very few adverse events when performed by a fully trained NZRA practitioner.

Headaches and Acupuncture

Chronic headaches and migraine affect 1-4% of the population and are defined by 15 or more headaches per month over a three-month period. The condition is debilitating and can lead to long-term use of analgesics and other pharmaceuticals that host an array of side effects, yet still potentially fall short of satisfactory outcomes for sufferers. There is a recognised need for multi-modality management of pain associated with chronic headaches and migraine (1).

Acupuncture has emerged as an important non-pharmaceutical support where chronic pain patients are required to avoid or reduce the use of medications. or to assist in further relief where medications fall short (4).

With over 200 types of headaches, the focus of this article is on acupuncture in the treatment of chronic primary type headache which includes primary tension headache (2), migraine headache, and cluster headache (3).

Tension headache is characterised by mild to moderate, non-pulsatile tightness and is associated with chronic tension and active trigger points in the muscles of the neck and shoulders.

Migraine is a neurological type of headache characterised by moderate to severe one-sided pulsating pain, often with associated light and sound sensitivity, and some people experience aura.

Chronic headaches and migraine can be triggered by weather events, food sensitivities, sleep disorders, obesity, caffeine consumption, depression, anxiety, hormonal fluctuations or sensitivities, postural abnormalities, and an increase in stress and tension. While various prophylactic and analgesic medications are prescribed and their use overseen by the GP, overuse syndrome of self-prescribed over-the-counter analgesics is a well-understood headache trigger.

What is the research for acupuncture in headache and migraine?

A 2016 Cochrane systematic review involving 22 trials including 4985 participants, concluded that available evidence suggests acupuncture reduces the frequency of headaches and that acupuncture may be similar in its effect to treatment using prophylactic medications, it also says “Acupuncture can be considered a treatment option for patients willing to undergo this treatment” (5)

How do acupuncturists understand chronic headaches and migraine?

Chinese medicine recognises a variety of headache types, grouping them by their individual presentation and associated body symptoms. To do this a thorough examination is made to clarify what aspects of the body are involved in the attacks. There are two main imbalance types that cover any individual headache or migraine.

Over activate /excess type headaches:

Sudden onset, severe pulsating or sharp stabbing pain or heaviness in the forehead, temples, sides of the head, or the occipital region. In addition, other symptoms might include irritability, redness of the face and eyes, nausea, thirst, tinnitus, sinus congestion, venous congestion, tearing eyes, neck and shoulder tension, and digestive symptoms like IBS and bloating.

Underactivity/deficiency type headaches:

Slow onset, mild to moderately aching pain of the whole head or the top of the head, an empty head sensation that is usually worse for activity, with hunger and fatigue. Alongside these other symptoms may include, poor energy and general weakness, orthostatic dizziness, mild anxiety and depression, dry and pale complexion, cold hands and feet, frequent urination, poor memory and concentration, and weak digestive capacity.

Get in touch

We’d love to help you, so please let us know if you have any questions or if you are ready, you can book an appointment online.

I was pleased to have found her. With her help I was able to feel better, have more energy and improve my wellbeing in general."
Giuliana Grobberio

How do acupuncturists understand chronic headaches and migraine?

While the exact mechanism of how acupuncture eases pain and decreases the frequency of attacks is not well understood, studies show it is a supportive addition to management and treatment. Adding to this the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE clinical practice guidelines UK) includes acupuncture as a treatment to be considered to prevent chronic tension-type headaches and migraine (6).

Chronic or acute headaches should be assessed by a primary care physician prior to seeking natural health care options to exclude underlying secondary causes.


1) Murinova N, Krashin D. Chronic daily headache. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2015 May;26(2):375-89. doi: 10.1016/j.pmr.2015.01.001. Epub 2015 Mar 6. PMID: 25952071.

2) Murphy C, Hameed S. Chronic Headaches. [Updated 2021 Dec 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: 

3) Fofi, L., Allais, G., Quirico, P.E. et al. Acupuncture in cluster headache: four cases and review of the literature. Neurol Sci 35 (Suppl 1), 195–198 (2014).

4) Vickers AJ, Rees RW, Zollman CE, McCarney R, Smith CM, Ellis N, Fisher P, Van Haselen R. Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial. BMJ. 2004 Mar 27;328(7442):744. doi: 10.1136/bmj.38029.421863.EB. Epub 2004 Mar 15. PMID: 15023828; PMCID: PMC381326.

5) Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Vertosick EA, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Jun 28;2016(6):CD001218. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3. PMID: 27351677; PMCID: PMC4977344.

6) National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: Headache in over 12’s: Diagnosis and Management; Clinical guideline (CG150) 19 September 2012