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Is affordable acupuncture available for migraines?

Q: I suffer from migraines and headaches which seem to be non-responsive to the prophylactics tried so far. I've been told that acupuncture may help but I'd like to know how frequently I'd need to have these sessions... weekly/ monthly? I'm on a tight budget and haven't had much luck with my GP and the 'affordable' clinics in my area are still expensive and clash with my working hours so I'd like to know what type of commitment I'd need to make to get the best effect from the treatment

A: We are sorry to say that this is a little like the 'how long is a piece of string?' question. Although as practitioners we get a sense of what individual conditions are likely to need by way of treatment, our best guesses are always when we can actually see the patient. The fact that the disease label may be the same means nothing in Chinese medicine; fifty seven people with migraines might be diagnosed in 57 different ways, each unique and distinct. Some might get better quickly, some might take a long time.

If pushed, this expert would tend to advise patients whom he hasn't seen that they'd be looking at weekly treatment for about 4 or 5 weeks, followed by monthly treatment for another 3 to 4 months. It is very important to continue the monthly sessions after the initial burst of treatment to bring things under control, if indeed this can be done. Not all cases respond. The evidence is good, but not entirely conclusive as our factsheets show:

although it is important to note that NICE now recommends acupuncture for cluster headaches in young people.

If 'affordable' clinics are a strain on your finances, and by this we assume you mean one of the multibed clinics of which there are now a considerable number in the UK, then finding a practitioner who charges less may be a problem. It is not entirely impossible; a number of members have a quota system where they treat a small number of people for minimal fees. However, many have given this up after being stung ('sorry I'm late, the BMW was playing up and only two years' old too'), but no-one will be offended if you ask.

GPs aren't in a position to help, mainly because they are constrained only to use treatments where there is an evidence base. About the only option you have for getting free treatment is to get referred to a physio within the NHS who uses acupuncture and could trace your headaches back to a musculo-skeletal problem. However, even were this possible you will only get a maximum of six sessions.

As with any form of treatment it is important to see it through to the satisfaction of the practitioner. Headaches and migraine in particular have an annoying habit of coming back if the treatment programme is cut short, and of course people conclude that the acupuncture treatment hasn't worked. This is far from the case, but where people are limited to a foxed number of treatments it is not an uncommon thing to hear. 


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