Migraineur’s Guide to CAM: traditional healing practices

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM1,2 is a group of healing methods originating in China that developed over thousands of years and includes the use of special diets, massage, and herbal remedies native to China as well as the following therapies:

Acupuncture is based on the philosophy that there is a “life force” (qui or chi) that flows through the body along channels called meridians. By inserting the tip of very thin needles at strategic points along these meridians, the flow of chi is improved, relieving pain by stimulating the body’s natural pain killers and improving blood flow to support healing.  Some practitioners use heat lamps and TENS units to enhance the healing process. Modern acupuncture uses sterile, single-use needles for each session.

Acupressure uses the pressure of hands, fingers, and small tools rather than needles to accomplish similar effects. It is actually a different discipline altogether from acupuncture. Sometimes both are used for the same health concern.

Moxibustion is the practice of burning herbs above acupuncture points to apply heat in order to unblock chi and facilitate healing. It can leave red marks on the skin or create contact dermatitis. It is often used in combination with acupuncture to enhance its effects.


Cupping is the practice of applying a heated cup to the skin. This creates suction and often leaves a temporary mark on the skin that has occasionally been mistaken for signs of physical abuse by Western doctors. If you decide to use this practice, make sure to explain it to your doctor to prevent any misunderstanding.

Five Element Psychotherapy – When it comes to emotional and mental well-being, TCM has its own philosophy of healing. The Five Element Philosophy is based on the belief that mind and body are inseparable. Specific emotions can trigger organ dysfunction, so resolution of emotional issues is critical to physical health. In TCM, each organ is tied to a specific emotion. For example, the liver is tied to anger. So if a patient has liver problems, TCM will address energy blockage, restore proper functioning with diet and herbs, and then address any unresolved anger that contributes to the problem. Unlike Western medicine, one TCM practitioner addresses all aspect of health instead of referring patients to multiple specialists.

Tai Chi3 is a mind-body practice involving slow, dance-like movements, breathing techniques, and mindfulness meditation. Regular practice improves balance and circulation.  It is a low-impact form of exercise that uses your own body weight as resistance.

Qi Gong4 is similar to Tai Chi in that it is also a movement discipline. The key difference is that advanced forms involve improving the flow of chi (“life force”). Qi Gong emphasizes specific breathing techniques and precise, flowing movements. Both disciplines have shown to improve overall wellness, reduce blood pressure, and are gentle, simple ways to improve fitness in even the most disabled individuals.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic medicine5 is the traditional healing practice of India. It is almost as old as TCM, dating its origins back thousands of years. Like TCM, Ayurvedic Medicine involves the use of plant-based remedies native to India, as well as massage, cleansing routines, and special diets. As with other forms of plant-based medicine, Ayurvedic remedies are not regulated as medicines by the FDA, although they have medicinal actions in the body and may have side effects or be contraindicated for some people. There have been some promising studies on the benefits of Ayurvedic remedies, such as Turmeric, for use in treating chronic pain.

Ayurveda encompasses more than just medicine. Like TCM, it emphasizes balance and harmony as key indicators of health and does not separate mind and body like Western medicine. In its purest form, it is a spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, and societal world view. Ayurvedic medicine is still the primary form of health care for most of India.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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