Success Stories from the Acupuncture Clinic: Migraines of the Most Difficult Type to Treat
Today’s success story is about a case that has actually been one of my most difficult migraine cases ever.
I chose to write about it anyway, even though the treatment process was filled with challenges, so people could see that successful treatment doesn’t always look how we expect it will look. And also to help people understand that sometimes we need to stay the course in order to get results. The patient happily agreed to me writing up her case, hoping it might help someone else.
(for privacy, name has been changed)
Migraine patient history
Lucy, age 32, started coming to me over a year ago, with migraines that would feel like she had a clamp pressing in around her head, after the typical “aura”. She would get severe nausea with them, and after would be left with what felt like a severe hangover, for almost a week. She had always been a low energy person, and the migraine “post-drome” would put her in bed for sometimes days.
She would only get these migraines about once every 4-6 weeks, but they were still causing her to miss a lot of work.
Lucy also had very sluggish digestion, with severe bloating and constipation. She said this wasn’t helped by her binge eating almost daily after work, and that she’d put on about 40 pounds over the prior year or so; although she had always struggled with weight.
Apart from her migraines, digestive weakness, and low energy, she had no other physical or emotional complaints. She was a generally cheerful person and described herself as very “laid back”.
Acupuncture & herbal treatment
I advised that she start at twice/week appointments, because although she was only getting migraines once every 5 weeks or so, her tongue and pulse revealed a classic case of “damp stagnation” as the underlying cause of her migraines and other symptoms. I knew this would take assertive treatment to be effective, including herbs.
“Damp”, by nature, is sticky, it’s goopy, it’s like sludge coursing through the body blocking normal body functions. It involves an excess of fat and fluid accumulations and stuck secretions. Because of its sticky nature, it is one of the most challenging underlying imbalances to treat; but only because it takes more persistence than any other root cause of illness, and progress is typically much slower.
Additionally, because damp is usually caused by lifestyle choices — namely lack of exercise and too many processed and unhealthy foods — it makes it even harder to successfully treat if lifestyle choices aren’t supporting treatment.
In Lucy’s case, she admitted to not being very motivated to make lifestyle changes, which I knew would be crucial in this case for the treatment to be effective.
She chose to start with weekly appointments and see how she did. She declined herbs.
Acupuncture Treatment Process
About 3 weeks into treatment, she got her typical migraine, 6 weeks after the last one. She was in bed for 4 days. She had hoped that after 3 treatments her migraines would have improved. She did report a major improvement in her constipation.
I urged her to start herbs, explaining the likely failure of treatment if we didn’t add herbs in, as well as start treating with acupuncture more assertively.
She continued with weekly treatments, but also continued to decline herbs.
About 7 weeks after her last migraine, she got another one. So she went slightly longer between migraines, and this one put her in bed for only 2 days this time; but she was still frustrated. At that point we had a serious check-in about the likelihood of success without herbs. Also, she hadn’t gotten serious about lifestyle changes, which was also derailing progress.
I told her she could be wasting her money if we didn’t add these two things into the treatment process.
She finally agreed to start herbs. Due to various work trips and other personal obligations, she was not able to come in regularly during the next several weeks, but she did stay faithful on her herbs. After 6 weeks she got another migraine, but even though this one only put her in bed for 1 day, she was ready to throw in the towel at this point.
Improvements with Acupuncture and Herbs
A big consolation for me that we were on the right track, was the fact that for the first time, her tongue and pulse were revealing a big improvement in her damp, so I urged her to continue and explained that I was seeing progress, although she wasn’t seeing much. When we started she had an extremely thick, greasy coat on her tongue, which she no longer had.
She did admit to having much more energy, with the result of being more motivated to exercise. A few days per week she had started walking over her lunch break. Her digestive bloating had also completely gone away, except for on those days after a night of major binging — which had also decreased in frequency to only once every couple weeks or so.
These improvements were enough to convince her to stay the course.
Final resolution of migraines
This time she went about 10 weeks between migraines, and for the first time, she was only out for the day of the migraine, and was able to go back to work the next day, feeling normal. She said this was unheard of.
We backed her way off acupuncture, approximately once every 3 weeks. Enough for me to see her and take her pulse/tongue diagnosis and prescribe her more herbs.
She had another “visual migraine” 8 weeks later, meaning she only had the aura and some slight nausea, that never turned into a migraine. This was also new for her. She did admit to falling off the wagon for the past several weeks before this latest one, in terms of nutrition.
The next migraine came just over 3 months after her last one. At this point she was convinced of the dietary involvement in her migraines, and had gotten serious about nutrition over the past few weeks. She started eating a whole-foods low carb diet, and in the 3 weeks since starting it, she’d gone down 2 sizes. She had also started slow jogging over lunch in place of walking.
We started seeing her only once every 6-8 weeks for acupuncture, and she stayed on herbs, although at a reduced dose. We had now gotten to the source of the damp, had rid it from her body, so as long as she kept up her healthier lifestyle, I didn’t feel more frequent acupuncture or the higher dosage of herbs was necessary.
At her appointment this week, she’d gone 4 months without a migraine. We agreed her treatment was done, and barring a return to old lifestyle habits, she shouldn’t be getting migraines in the future. I advised that some people like to just come for “tune-up” treatments at the change of the seasons, or if they feel themselves getting off track, or just feeling a little sluggish, etc.
But overall, we called the treatment a success.
Summary and Assessment
While the acupuncture alone had managed to extend her time a little between migraines, as well as speed up her migraine-recovery, and improve her constipation; it wasn’t until she’d been on the herbs for several weeks that the real improvement began.
Once the herbs were able to help her body clear out her dampness, not only did that help the migraines, but she had more energy and felt less heavy and sluggish, which made her exercise, which helped improved her dampness even more. From there it became an upward spiral.
(Update 1 year later:)
Lucy came in to see me this week for trouble sleeping since starting a new job. She reported that she still has not had a migraine!