Acupuncture is a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, used for thousands of years to relieve pain and boost well-being. Now, Western science is confirming what Asian healers have long known: this ancient healing technique may be more effective than medications for treating – and even preventing – a variety of headache pain, including not only chronic and tension headaches, but also migraines and some symptoms of “dangerous” headaches caused by serious health conditions. Here are five things you might not know about using acupuncture for headache pain.

1. Modern Science Supports Ancient Healing

The many modalities of Chinese medicine operate within a simple framework. Health and well-being depend on the vigorous movement of “qi,” or life energy, throughout the body. Qi flows along 14 meridians running from head to toe, and blockages or imbalances in that flow of qi create conditions for a range of disease states, both major and minor.

Acupuncture aims to relieve pain and promote healing by stimulating points along the body’s qi meridians to help that vital energy flow freely again. In the language of Western medicine, acupuncture needles stimulate nerves relating to the body’s central and autonomous nervous system.

That stimulation can encourage the release of pain-relieving hormones, improve blood flow and relax tense, painful muscles. Because all these neural pathways are connected, even remote acupuncture sites in the hands or feet can be used to promote healing in other areas as well. For these reasons, acupuncture can be especially helpful in treating headache pain.

2. Acupuncture Can Relieve Many Kinds of Headache Pain

Headaches have many causes and a number of studies suggest that acupuncture can be used alone or alongside more conventional treatments to relieve the symptoms of four main kinds of head pain.

Tension Headaches

A common bane of modern life, tension headaches arise from stress related tightness in muscles in the head and neck. Though benign, tension headaches can affect daily living and impact work. Acupuncture can help to relax these tight muscles and promote better blood flow to affected areas. The placement of acupuncture needles can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is more than just a headache. For most sufferers, head pain is the most obvious manifestation of this neurological disorder that can also include symptoms such as nausea, light sensitivity and visual disturbances. A course of acupuncture can provide relief from the debilitating migraine headaches – and it may also help to prevent a recurrence for several months after treatment.

Chronic Headaches

When a person experiences a headache for at least 15 days out of every month, that condition is called a chronic headache. Although chronic headaches have causes ranging from sinus infections to migraines and hypertension, acupuncture can help to block pain and stimulate the body’s production of endorphins.

“Dangerous” Headaches

Although many headaches are more of an inconvenience than a life- threatening condition, some headaches do in fact signal very serious health conditions, such as meningitis, an aneurysm that could rupture and cause a stroke, or a tumor in the brain.

These kinds of headaches typically have a range of other symptoms besides head pain, such as nausea and problems with vision, coordination and balance. Some studies have shown that acupuncture can be a helpful adjunct to conventional approaches to treating the conditions that give rise to these types of headaches.

3. Acupuncture Can Beat Drugs For Migraines

Migraine headaches are a special type of headache. A migraine can be triggered by a wide range of factors, including strobing lights, certain foods or stress — and some migraines don’t involve a headache at all.

A migraine is a chronic condition and recent studies reveal that a course of acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms of a migraine attack as well as prevent future episodes for up to three months. Acupuncture stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and encourages the flow of endorphins to ease the pain of a migraine headache, but it can also help to relax tense muscles and support blood flow.

4. Acupuncture Takes a Whole Body Approach

During an acupuncture treatment, very fine needles are inserted into the skin at key points on the affected meridians – and these points may be very far from the site of pain or discomfort. To treat headache pain, acupuncture needles can be placed in areas around the neck, shoulders or in the feet, legs and hands, since points in those areas of the body also relate to the meridians, or neural networks, that play a role in easing pain.

5. Acupuncturists Are Trained Professionals

Acupuncture is an ancient way of healing, but today’s practitioners are thoroughly modern. Professional acupuncturists combine specialized training at the Master’s Degree level with additional studies in medicine, anatomy, physiology and other health-related fields.

In addition to their education in the field of acupuncture, prospective acupuncturists must also complete clinical training under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Many acupuncturists combine acupuncture with a variety of other holistic healing modalities, such as reiki, massage or breathwork, in order to treat not just headache pain but also its underlying causes.

Acupuncture can be an effective tool for treating – and even preventing – many kinds of headaches. Today’s acupuncturists combine ancient techniques with insights from modern medical research to support your body’s own ways of healing and relieving pain.