Lately there has been an upsurge in online content about daith piercing as a treatment for migraine. It all started with an article in a student newspaper at State University of New York in 2011. The article was titled A “Piercing” New Alternative for Migraine Relief.” That article was then picked up by several news media outlets and been republished this year. Interviews with patients who claim success have been published in The Huffington Post and UK Daily Mail, too. Those articles have spread across social media, creating a lot of hype. No doubt you have received more than one copy on your news feed.
No major news coverage
Just because a topic is getting a lot of attention on social media, doesn’t make it reputable news. I haven’t seen any links to The New York Times, Washington Post, or any other leading newspaper. It hasn’t been on the evening news. It’s so new and unproven that it hasn’t even made it onto a daytime medical TV show! You would think that if there really was something to this procedure, some big shot journalist would have run with it by now.
The claims that daith piercing works are based on the assumption that the piercing is in the same location used by acupuncturists to treat headache pain. Even if we assume that migraine involves a headache (which isn’t always the case), I find it doubtful that some tattoo artist or piercing technician can accurately pinpoint an acupressure point.
That’s where the story starts to break down. Not one article has interviewed an acupuncturist. The lack of comment from these practitioners is either glaringly bad journalism or an unwillingness on the part of acupuncturists to be associated with this unproven fad. So I started digging through old school books and checked out some reputable websites for a listing of commonly used acupuncture points. I can find no evidence of a documented or widely used acupuncture point in that anatomical location. There are points above and below the cartilage ridge that are used for digestive issues. There is also a point on the ridge itself, called Point Zero or Wonderful Point. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that acupuncture at this point stimulates a return to homeostasis. To impact this point, the piercing would have to go through the ridge in a horizontal line perpendicular to the body. Daith piercings simply do not impact a single acupuncture point that would have any impact on the neurological condition of migraine.
Is it acupuncture? Does acupuncture help migraine?
There have been a lot of anecdotes about the success of acupuncture in treating migraine. It’s been studied in clinical trials numerous times and shown to be slightly better than a sham procedure (patients think they are getting acupuncture, but they are not). The difference is so slim that it is not recommended as a first line treatment. However, some patients who are uncomfortable with medical treatments or unresponsive to these treatments may consider trying acupuncture. Many headache specialists view acupuncture as a “can’t hurt, might help” therapy. There is no clear evidence that it works. There is also no clear evidence that it doesn’t.
Maybe it’s a case of placebo effect? It’s certainly possible. Many of us are desperate enough to try almost anything for relief. Belief in the effectiveness of a treatment goes a long way. The only route to determine if diath piercings are successful is a clinical trial. There are no records of such trials. The lack of objective evidence doesn’t necessarily mean a treatment is ineffective. It just means there’s really no hard proof. All we have to rely on are patient stories.
Because people thrive in social groups, there is a tendency to adopt the thoughts, beliefs, and opinions that match the majority of people around you. It’s an instinctive survival mechanism that keeps us bonded together. It can also be harmful when the group adopts a belief that has no supporting evidence or has the potential for harm. When a group of desperately sick people really want a treatment to work, the placebo effect can be incredibly high. The trick with placebo effects is that they generally wear off over time. Some of the social media comments appear to demonstrate that this is true for daith piercings.
Perhaps you are thinking about trying it. After all, it’s “just a piercing” so what could it hurt?
But that’s precisely the problem. It is just a piercing. If you enjoy body piercings, then maybe you’ll be adventurous enough to try a daith piercing on the off chance that it might help you. But what if you’re not a fan of body piercing? Let’s say you’re like me and have a modest 2 piercings per ear lobe and only wear earrings on special occasions. Would you make a special effort to get a piercing that you normally would avoid in the hopes that it helps reduce the number of migraine attacks?
Is there an upside?
- At $30-$50, it’s a relatively inexpensive procedure
- There are few long-term side effects.
- It’s a new piercing! (if you like that sort of thing)
Points to remember:
- There is no research to support its use for migraine.
- It is NOT the same as acupuncture.
- There is potential for pain and infection at the piercing site.
- According to some patient reports, it may make the migraine attacks worse.
- The procedure is performed by non-medical service providers with no formal training in acupuncture or headache medicine
I want to try it anyway. What do I need to know?
- Make sure you are getting the right piercing. Many people confuse the daith piercing the tragus piercing.
- Understand that this is a bony cartilage piercing that carries a higher risk of pain and infection if not treated properly.
- Understand that you are trying an unproven therapy, so outcomes may vary greatly. (Some would argue that this is true even of “proven” therapies.)
- Be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for the procedure and assume all risks.
Good luck! I really hope it works for you. I think I’ll pass on this one.