Chronic Migraines Made Daily Life Unbearable — Until I Tried This Ancient Technique

The pain was unreal.

acupuncture on forehead Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

2013 was the most hectic year of my life — one that brought on debilitating chronic migraine headaches I only found relief from after taking a risk on what I'd heard about the benefits of acupuncture.

I had just returned from a semester abroad in Australia. While I was away, Hurricane Sandy destroyed my home which meant that, upon returning back to the States, I was technically homeless.

I was sleeping in the living room at my grandmom’s house while working 40 hours a week as a server and also commuting eight hours a week to school, where I was completing my last semester of six classes.


To top it all off, I was suffering from almost daily migraines that were absolutely, completely, totally unbearable.

To be honest, the migraine symptoms I experienced were so strange I didn’t even know they were migraines at first.

It started subtly, with dull pain at the base of my head. The headaches didn’t happen that often and, though uncomfortable, the chronic pain was still bearable.

Until it wasn’t.

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Eventually, it evolved into a sharp pain, still localized at the base of my head, but with additional shooting pain in my left eye.


It was so severe that it was actually affecting the muscles in my back and neck, tightening them to the point that my muscles felt like rocks — an unfortunate cycle that probably made the migraines worse.

At first, I could manage the headaches with Excedrin. But as the migraines got worse and more frequent, Excedrin didn’t even make a dent in the pain.

Eventually, I figured that even though I couldn’t get rid of the migraine, I might be able to relieve some of the negative effects that came with it.

I went to see a chiropractor in hopes they would help loosen up the muscles in my back and neck.

She sent me for X-rays, which revealed that I had a retrolisthesis toward the top of my spine.


This means that instead of being neatly stacked, one of the vertebrae in my neck had somehow slipped backward. According to the chiropractor, this was likely pulling the muscles around my left shoulder blade, a strain that resulted in the migraines.

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The chiropractor suggested I visit her twice a month to get adjusted, which I did for a while.

I found that the adjustments did alleviate, but not prevent, the migraine pain, and learned that when I started feeling a migraine coming on, I could crack my neck (bad habit, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures!) to keep it at bay.


Unfortunately, the chiropractic visits really started draining my bank account, and since I wasn’t seeing any long-term migraine relief, I stopped going.

The migraines, however, continued on.

The only time I found relief was when I was sleeping. Whenever I felt a migraine coming on, I’d have to take a nap, which obviously wasn’t always possible.

If I couldn’t sleep, I’d suffer through it. I developed the subconscious habit of massaging the muscles around my left shoulder blade in a (futile) attempt to relieve the headache.

At one point, I specifically remember walking down the stairs crying in my grandmom’s house one night and thinking, “Is this how I have to live the rest of my life? Is it worth it?”


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After a good six months or so of painful migraines, my mom suggested I try acupuncture.

She had tried it herself for chronic pain and was happy with the results. At this point, there was not one treatment method I would’ve turned down, so I made an appointment with a local acupuncturist.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find the building was calm and soothing, a lot like a spa.

I was brought into a room and described my symptoms to the acupuncturist, then laid on my stomach on a massage table with my bare back exposed.

The acupuncturist placed needles all around my back. The muscles around my left shoulder blade were so tight I could literally feel them closing around the needles.


After the acupuncturist placed all of the needles, he left the room for about 20 minutes. I won’t lie, I had a mini panic attack when I thought too hard about the fact that there were a ton of needles just sticking out of my back.

Eventually, though, I relaxed. When the acupuncturist returned, he removed the needles and a massage therapist massaged my back.

I returned twice more, each time with fewer migraines in-between visits.


Now, five years later, I rarely get those awful headaches and have less back pain.

I absolutely do not know how acupuncture works, but I am so glad it does.

It’s considered a pseudoscience by some who suggest it has a placebo effect instead of true pain relief, but it’s made my life livable and I’d definitely suggest it to anyone struggling with chronic pain.

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Micki Spollen is a YourTango editor, writer, and traveler. Find her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.