Can An Unconventional Piercing Rid You of Migraine Pain?

The scientific evidence is lacking to support the claim of a cure
Can An Unconventional Piercing Rid You of Migraine Pain?

If you’re among the 12% of the U.S. population who get migraines, you know how intensely painful one of these headaches can be.

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You may have tried everything to get rid of the excruciating hurt – including pain-relieving pills, changes to your diet and aromatherapy. Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for the tendency to get migraines.

You may have heard recently about a highly unconventional remedy that promises to free you from migraine pain forever — daith piercing. But does it work?

A pierced ear

Daith piercing is a piercing in the spot where the cartilage ridge inside the outer ear, called the helix, ends above the opening to the ear canal.

The theory put forth on piercing this spot is that acupuncture targets this area to relieve migraine pain. And so, the logic goes, a piercing there permanently prevents migraines from occurring.

Unfortunately, there is no medical research that supports this theory.

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Placebo effect

While some people swear that a daith piercing actually rids them of migraines, what’s probably at work is a temporary placebo effect, says headache specialist Emad Estemalik, MD.

A placebo is an inactive treatment, such as a sugar pill, that mimics an active therapy. The placebo effect happens when a patient believes the placebo is effective. In turn, the placebo has an effect on the medical condition — and can positively affect the perception of pain.

Placebos aside, there is no scientific evidence or clinical trial results that support ear piercing as a solution to migraines, Dr. Estemalik says.

“There’s nothing in literature I’ve heard of, nothing I’ve read about, nothing I have studied out there that supports such a procedure to treat migraine,” Dr. Estemalik says. “Receiving a piercing in that area will not alter the pain pathway of migraine.”

How migraine happens

The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as to genetic causes. People with migraines may inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes and others.

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For many years, scientists believed that migraines were linked to the expanding and narrowing of blood vessels on the brain’s surface. However, it is now believed that migraine is caused by inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.

A migraine begins when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to the blood vessels, leading to the blood vessels expanding and the release of prostaglandins, serotonin and other inflammatory substances that cause the blood’s pulsing to be painful.

So it’s hard to see why or how a hole in the cartilage of the outer ear would impact the development of a migraine, Dr. Estamalik says.

“I would never recommend ear piercing for one of my patients,” he says. “The danger of infection from a piercing of this site strongly outweighs any unproven benefit, especially because these procedures are conducted at tattoo parlors where proper sterility may be a question.”

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