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Published Monday, March 9, 2015

Can A Daith Piercing Cure Your Migraines?

In case you were wondering, this is where the daith piercing is. (Courtesy of Kaylee Noteboom, via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you know about this daith piercing rumor? If you haven’t heard, the idea is simple: Some people who have migraines are getting their daith pierced to cure their migraines. The theory is that the piercing mimics a highly specialized form of acupuncture that is regularly used to treat migraines.

And in the last few years, more and more studies and meta-analysis are coming to light which show that in the particular area of pain relief, acupuncture seems to have an effect somewhere between “better than a placebo” and “better than commonly prescribed meds” according to who you ask.

So what’s the real deal? Do daith piercings cure migraines or not?

Before we dig into that, let’s look at why someone would get a piercing in order to help their migraines in the first place. I spoke to Zoe, a migraine sufferer who got the daith piercing in December, about her migraines.

“I have complete incapacity with them. Can’t move.” When she has a migraine, Zoe has to put herself in a completely dark room, with absolutely no light, and no smells either, for about eight hours. When it’s over, Zoe has symptoms like a hangover for two days.

The thing with migraine is you feel so powerless and not in control so even the thought that you might be doing something to help yourself is worth it alone.

“To me they feel like a painful prison. I have no control and just have to wait it out.”

The worst part? No one really knows what she goes through. She calls it a ‘blind problem’, because to her friends and everyone else she just disappears for a while and then comes back okay. Migraines are a thing that happen ‘off stage’. No one sees the action.

Zoe heard about the daith piercing helping people with migraines in an article on Facebook. “I figured what’s the harm?” Getting the piercing was cheaper than acupuncture, and if it didn’t work, she could always just remove it.

What I really needed was an expert in ear acupuncture.

“Many people fail to realize that migraine is a neurological disease, like epilepsy.” — Migraine Research Foundation(shutterstock_168094034)

Kristen Horner Warren of Live Oak Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, who is just such an expert, says the issue is complicated to explain, even if the bottom line is pretty simple: “A number of important nerves can be stimulated through the ear, but effectively stimulating those nerves is very location-specific.”

Kristen says that even someone licensed in Acupuncture with years of graduate school isn’t necessarily qualified to do it. It deals with the super specific idea of Auriculotherapy, a branch of acupuncture founded by a French neurologist. Sort of.

From Wikipedia:

“Auriculotherapy was first developed by the French neurologist Paul Nogier, publishing his results in 1957 with his Treatise of Auriculotherapy. These developments were made using clinical trials based in a phrenological method of projection of a fetal Homunculus on the ear for reference of complaints and points for treatment.”

The ear map that resulted from this was then used in China with points labelled from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and then Acupuncture was brought into the mix for stimulating those areas.

If I lost you two paragraphs ago with the words “fetal homunculus” don’t worry. I’m going to explain. Basically, the theory is that when you were a baby all your tissues were folded over and then, as you grew and expanded, they unfolded. The spot where your stuff used to overlap? Your ears.

So the idea is that by stimulating points on the ears, you can affect things all over the body.

Does that mean that daith piercings to help migraines is confirmed?

Women are three times more likely to be affected by migraines than men, and nearly 45% of female migraine sufferers go undiagnosed.

Should health insurance providers start covering these piercings? Not quite.

You see, your daith piercing is not in the right spot according to auriculotherapy. Okay, you say, so what if I pierce the right spot, smart guy?

Kristen, along with Professional Piercer and friend of the blog Elayne Angel, tested this out by performing piercings in the correct locations according to auriculotherapy. Kristen’s results were less than stellar.

Not only were the results not permanent, but there were much better ways to get results without getting pierced.

As Kristen said, “Without exception, patients who noticed a therapeutic benefit to their piercing reported that that benefit disappeared within a month. In many cases the benefit lasted only a week or two. This is about the same amount of time that the benefit from ear seeds lasts, but ear seeds have the benefit of being painless and carry none of the risks associated with a piercing.”

Without exception, patients who noticed a therapeutic benefit to their piercing reported that that benefit disappeared within a month

An ear seed, because you are now wondering, is a pellet that can be stuck in your ear with adhesive and it just falls out later.

And on the subject of legality, Kristen says, “I know of at least one body piercer who is facing charges for practicing medicine without a license because she was advertising extensively that she could use piercing to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. For the safety of both the public and body piercers, claims that ear piercing can treat or cure medical conditions are a very bad idea.”

Because if you’re claiming to be practicing medicine, that’s a problem. There’s a reason health books say “Not intended to diagnose or treat any disease” on the first page.

I recommend reading Kristen’s article on the subject here.

New fields of study are focusing on light therapy and acupuncture to help reduce migraine symptoms.

She goes way in depth and explains ear-based acupuncture much better than I am capable of.

The real bottom line on this? If you’re like Zoe and suffering from migraines, acupuncture might help reduce your symptoms. It probably won’t be a complete cure, but along with meds and other therapies you can do pretty well.

As for the piercing as therapy? Probably not. But if you think the daith piercing looks cool and just want to try something, anything, to get your pain reduced, give it a shot. Just heed Elayne Angel’s advice:

– Cartilage piercings take longer to heal

– The daith is in a particularly difficult spot

– A lot of piercers use jewelry that’s too small

– The piercing, done too shallowly, can cause healing issues including migration.

She recommends seeing a member of the APP (She recommends this anyway, even for ‘simple’ piercings) and make sure they have experience with this piercing, because it can be tricky.

As for Zoe, she hasn’t had a migraine since she got her piercing a month ago, but she’s also on new medication that might be helping. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to hear that she’s doing well.