Headache after acupuncture treatment: Everything you need to know

Acupuncture is commonly used to relieve discomforts caused by various health conditions and diseases. It’s especially beneficial to treat pain but it’s increasingly being used for overall wellness and can even help manage stress. However, some people experience undesirable effects after an acupuncture treatment and this includes headaches. In this post, Dr Jessica Braid, acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist and functional medicine practitioner answers some of the most commonly asked questions in relation to headaches after acupuncture.

Dr Jessica Braid is a co-founder of a unique online health platform and members-only community adio.org worth checking out.

Is it normal to get a headache after acupuncture?

In my experience doing thousands of acupuncture and electroacupuncture sessions, headaches after acupuncture are rare and were experienced by complex or extremely low energy patients.

In a patient I was supporting with migraines, we had to do extremely modified gentle acupuncture (very few needles) or it would make her migraines much worse. There are no published clinical trials documenting the incidence of headaches after acupuncture and it is generally considered very safe with a minor to moderate side effect rate of 1 in a 100 to 1 in a 1000 depending on the population studies. This usually includes bruising, dizziness and pain at a needling site. Serious adverse events are extremely rare.

Theoretically, it would be more likely for you to experience headaches if we have done more acupuncture on the head or neck. This may also be more commonly experienced if you haven’t done what we call distal points (other points on the body away from the head) to help the energy move out of the head. Some practitioners who just do local trigger points in the head and neck rather than following the traditional Chinese medicine system of acupuncture may only do local head points and within acupuncture theory, this isn’t advised. 

Are headaches common after acupuncture?

Some people experience an aggravation of their symptoms after acupuncture which can include headaches. This usually settles within 48 hours and they often feel better afterwards.

In my experience, it happens more commonly in the first few sessions and in people who are very depleted or weakened.

In the traditional Chinese theory of acupuncture, stimulation of the acupuncture points removes blockages and stimulates the flow of energy around the body in meridians. If the person’s energy is low in the first place, moving the energy can make them feel tired and headach-y, which is usually cured by doing more nourishing acupuncture points next time.

Pain also occurs at sites of blockage in the body and if there is a lot of energy blocked in the head (often through long term stress), acupuncture can highlight this as a ‘stuck’ energy flow’ in this area. Again, your acupuncturist can address this by using more needles to improve energy flow to the head. 

If you experience any symptoms after treatment, it is important to get in touch with your acupuncturist and they can help support you. 

Why do I get a headache a day or two days after acupuncture?

A headache a day or two days after acupuncture could be seen as an aggravation. Some sensitive patients get worse before they feel better or as previously mentioned, it may be the acupuncture was too strong for you and using less needles and a more nourishing point combination may relieve this problem. 

Can acupuncture make headaches worse?

Acupuncture is considered to be a beneficial treatment for migraines and tension headaches with clinical trial research to support this and so we would expect acupuncture to improve rather than create headaches. 

More about Dr Jessica Braid
Dr Jess is an experienced acupuncturist who has trained in electro-acupuncture and pain management as well as fertility, weight loss and cosmetic acupuncture. She is an experienced herbalist and is qualified in several different systems of herbal treatment and is experienced blending both Traditional Chinese and Western herbs. She is also a qualified medical doctor and certified functional medicine practitioner.
Dr Jess created an online health platform and members-only community https://adio.org/ together with her sister Dr Xandra (DoC)
who is a Doctor of Chiropractic.

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