Today I am talking to acupuncturist Stephen West who has been getting good results treating migraine symptoms with acupuncture at his practices in Horsham and Tunbridge Wells.
Stephen graduated from the International College of Oriental Medicine in 2004 where he now also teaches part-time. Since qualifying as an acupuncturist Stephen has been working in private practice and treats a wide range of conditions. Stephen is a member of the Acupuncture Society and is also a qualified massage practitioner.
1. What was your career before you became an acupuncturist?
I was quite young when I first started studying acupuncture way back in 2000. I was twenty years old at the time and had my twenty-first birthday during my first year as an acupuncture student so I didn’t have a lot of work experience before that time. However, I had also completed a GNVQ in Leisure and Tourism and was working as a supervisor in a restaurant before I joined the course. I had wanted to be an acupuncturist since I was sixteen years old, but I was of course way too young at the time.
2. What first got you interested in acupuncture at such a young age?
I have always been heavily into the Martial Arts since a young boy and during my early teens, I became familiar with acupuncture points from a few Martial Arts books I was reading at the time. My teacher also showed me some of the uses of specific points for Martial Arts purposes and I was just fascinated. About a year or two later when I was sixteen I picked up a shoulder injury form training and decided to give acupuncture a go. I was delighted that it worked very well and since that time I just had to know more about it.
3. I hear you have been getting good results treating migraines with acupuncture. Can you tell us a bit about how acupuncture can help this condition?
Yes, there, of course, can be quite a few causes for a migraine headache and it depends mainly on the cause of the condition as to how you would treat it. However, in the majority of cases and from a Chinese medicine point of view, migraines often relate to a disturbance in the gallbladder and three heater channel, known as Shao Yang. When the Shao Yang channel is affected the migraine will usually present with unilateral head pain and visual disturbances. In other people, the migraine is primarily arising from heat in the liver. When this is the cause then they often can be an intense pain on the vertex of the head. When a migraine presents with a stiff neck and or pain in the occipital region of the head then the bladder channel or gallbladder channel can be involved. By correctly diagnosing the cause we can then choose the appropriate points to help clear the affected channel and restore harmony and flow in the body.
4. What methods do you use to diagnose a migraine?
When we are trying to establish the cause of a migraine I first interview the patient to ask them how they experience the condition. I am interested to know things like is their pain with a migraine (sometimes there is not), if so, whereabouts do they feel the pain. Do they also have pain in other parts of the body or only the head? Are there visual disturbances, if so, what kind of disturbances are they experiencing? How often do the migraines occur and what is the typical duration? Also, I am often interested to know if there is a common time of day when they seem to strike or if they are at random times and are there any triggers that they are aware of. After questioning the patient I then also check the muscles of the back and neck for any tension and tight muscles. From here I then use Chinese tongue and pulse diagnosis.
5. Do you find that there are common triggers for migraines in the patients that you see?
Yes, there often can be. Most commonly, I come across people who are triggered by things like stress, dehydration and exhaustion. There is also a commonality in people who experience a lot of anger and or frustration that has built up over time. In Chinese medicine, these emotions cause an imbalance in the liver and gallbladder, which can then lead to a disturbance in these channel pathways that reach the head.
6. What is the success rate of treating migraines with acupuncture?
Often quite high. I have not yet treated someone who did not get any relief at all. For some, the migraine symptoms can drop considerably once they start having acupuncture. For others, it can take some time before they feel some relief. In most cases, besides working directly with the migraine symptoms, I often also need to balance the emotions, particularly the emotions that affect the wood element and therefore have a direct effect on the liver and gallbladder. As I mentioned before, these emotions are usually anger and/or frustration.
7. How many treatments do people seem to need for migraines?
It depends on the person and why they are experiencing the migraine. For some it can just be a few sessions, for others, it can be an ongoing process and a way to manage the condition. Typically, if the migraines are brought on by stress then a few sessions can often right the issue. If there are other causes then the initial treatments can help to bring the symptoms down, then they benefit from coming for acupuncture treatment periodically to help keep the symptoms at bay.
Thank you to Stephen for taking the time for this interview, please feel free to leave him a comment below. If you would like to find out more about Stephen then you can visit his website at professional-acupuncture.com or you can join Stephen on Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also read his article on migraines here.