An Update On Daith Piercings

daith migraineI wrote my first article on Daith piercings about a year and a half ago. As many know, this has been advocated for the treatment of headaches. The questions I have been asked since that time have been numerous but the most common question is, “Will it work for me?” I obviously cannot tell if it work for anyone in particular. I have heard from many that it has helped them manage their migraine headaches. Most interesting to me was some of my regular patients have tried it successfully.

Daith Piercing Information

Daith piercings are a specific type of ear piercing. The ear cartilage midline toward the front of the ear is pierced. This type of ear piercing has been around for 3,000 years, but the name “Daith piercing” was probably started in the 1990’s. The placement of the piercing is at the entrance to the ear canal and has symbolic meaning as the “Guardian to the Gate.” This piercing can be quite painful, and since it is through bony cartilage, care must be given to keep the site clean and to prevent infection.

There are many types of headaches, and only certain types of headaches will respond to Daith piercings. Those most likely to improve are migraines that are sensitive to ear stimulation, and likely to be one sided in nature. Daily headaches may be caused be a variety of factors – most common are muscle tension and stress headaches. Muscle tension headaches are caused by neck muscles tightening up, often associated with the position one has while working on a computer. Stress type headaches are caused by psychological factors that make a person anxious.  The most common headache in my practice are those associated with neck problems; either from nerve and disc problems or from the joints in the neck causing pain. These types of headaches are best treated successfully by managing the underlying causes.

Managing Headaches

The headaches that have been managed by Daith piercings are those that are migraine headaches. If you have been diagnosed by a neurologist with definite migraine headache (not self diagnosed), Daith piercings may be a treatment option. Over the last 18 months of studying this subject, an interesting correlation occurred to me that this treatment was similar to acupuncture and vagal nerve stimulation. All these treatments seem to affect the vagal nerve via a branch near the ear, which sends signals back to the brain that may affect various neurotransmitters and hormones that lead to vascular headaches.

Unfortunately, the true scientific proof and medical evidence with regards to Daith piercings is not present. All the results when one researches the topic seem to be stories that it worked for them. There is some basis as noted above why it may work. For those who are interested, a few cautions should be remembered. First, this is specifically going to work best for migraine headaches. If you have frequent and sometimes severe headaches, and they are not easily managed, first see a medical doctor and possibly a neurologist and get a good diagnosis made, and try conventional treatment. The cause should be treated first and may be straight forward to manage. If the headaches are migraines, and they are not responding to management, Daith piercing may be reasonable. Physicians normally do not perform this procedure, so do not ask them to do it. Only get this done by someone who does body piercings and is familiar with this particular one. It is extremely important that meticulous care is performed before and afterwards to keep the area clean and free from infection. Since this is through ear cartilage, near the brain, an infection in the area can be very dangerous and should be treated aggressively by a doctor.

If you want to run a test before piercing, first try massaging the area of the ear when you have a headache and see if that makes a difference. Another possibility is to try acupuncture to see if that works. Most acupuncturists will report what they do is different than the piercing and this is not going to be equal to the piercing, but it may be safer and easier for a test. If you go ahead with a piercing, make sure you try to prevent an infection in the area of the piercing.

Mental Health and Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain Mental Health SartellNew research published in the Journal of Pain suggests that 1 in 4 teenagers diagnosed with a mental health issue also suffer from chronic pain.

We’ve discussed the correlation between changes in your brain and the onset of chronic pain on the blog before, but the recent study shines more light on the link. For their study, researchers at the University of Basel analyzed data from nearly 6,500 teens between the ages of 13 and 18. They uncovered that more than 25 percent of teens with a mental disorder also experienced chronic pain.

Other findings from the study show:

  • 20 percent of teens suffer from a mental disorder, and 25 percent of them have chronic pain.
  • Mental disorders developed prior to the onset of chronic pain.
  • All types of chronic pain were associated with mental disorders.

“All types of pain were related to mental disorders,” researchers wrote. “The most substantial temporal associations were those with onset of mental disorders preceding onset of chronic pain, including those between affective disorders and headaches and any chronic pain; between anxiety disorders and chronic back/neck pain, headaches, and any chronic pain; between behavior disorders and headaches and any chronic pain; and between any mental disorder and chronic back/neck pain, headaches, and any chronic pain.”

Breaking It All Down

Researchers say the results indicate that anxiety and behavioral disorders may indicate that a teen is at a heightened risk for chronic headaches or back and neck pain. It also means that some forms of chronic pain may be preventable if we increase treatment options for mental health issues.

“Future studies should focus on identifying the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms with a view to developing interdisciplinary approaches to prevention and treatment,” said lead researcher Dr. Marion Tegethoff.

I too would be interested in further studies on the subject, but I know that exercise has been proven to be beneficial for both people suffering from depression and for those with chronic pain. So while we wait for more information on how we can combat chronic pain through mental health services, go for a 30-minute jog or go for a long walk with a friend!

Daith Piercings For Migraines

Daith PiercingThe internet is a weird place. Back in March, I penned a short, 4-paragraph blog post on the correlation between daith piercings and migraine relief. You can check out the full blog post here, but I’ll provide a short summary for those who want to stay on this page.

In essence, a daith piercing is a type of piercing located in the ear cartilage midline toward the front of the inner ear. You can see a picture of the piercing on the right side of this blog. Although the science behind the piercing hasn’t been fully researched, the location of the piercing has actually been targeted by acupuncturists to help cure headaches. Acupuncturists target this area during sessions, and many people experience short-term headache relief after treatment.

Anybody who experiences frequent headaches or migraines can tell you just how debilitating the pain can be, and odds are they’ve tried numerous treatments to solve the problem. Could a daith piercing be the answer they are looking for?

Long Term Headache Relief

In the beginning of the blog I mentioned that the internet is a weird place. That’s because that blog on daith piercings went viral, and our site saw more traffic in a week than we did in all of 2014. People really wanted to learn more about Daith piercings, and they had a lot of questions. The most common question was, “Which side of my head should I get the piercing on?”

There is no specific answer, but thankfully, just like a brand new car, you can try it before you can buy it. What I mean by that is you can visit an acupuncturist and see if needles in certain parts of your cartilage provide some relief. If you find that it works, maybe it’s worth considering a permanent piercing.

For those of you who are needle-adverse, locating the daith piercing location may still help provide relief. If you begin to have a migraine, take your thumb and middle finger and gently massage that location on your ear. Switch ears after a few minutes, or massage both at the same time. If you notice significant relief, and you deal with regular headaches, a daith piercing could be a worthwhile solution.

Lastly, as I pointed out in the beginning of the article, there isn’t a lot of hard science behind the correlation between daith piercings and headache relief. Some people have found relief with this method, but it certainly won’t work for everybody. But, if you suffer from regular headaches and all other solutions have failed, it may be worth investigating further. I’ve read comments from readers who have said the procedure has helped to control their headaches, so if you pursue the procedure, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know how you are feeling in the days and weeks after the operation, and I’d be willing to let a few of you share your thoughts in a guest blog piece. I really just want people to find relief from pain, and your insights can help.

Proving That Chronic Pain Isn’t Just In Your Head

People with chronic pain often have been told it is “all in your head.” Now we can actually image brains with a combination of techniques and see actual differences in structure and chemistry that is being linked to chronic pain. The use of radioactive tracers, with PET, MRI and functional MRI scans are showing changing patterns of activity between normal people’s brains and those with chronic pain. The studies have led to several new key concepts, including glial cells and the role certain proteins play in pain expression.

Traditionally, pain has been related to signals of various nerves cell. Sensory nerve cells in the periphery of the body receive signals, then they are transmitted to the brain via the spine and interpreted by the brain, which transmits signals back to periphery. The electrical sensory and motor neurons are the critical components for understanding pain.

Brain Scan

Now we are learning glial cells, which were thought of as structural components – the scaffolding of the nervous system – may be equally or more important in pain. Glial cells support and protect nerve cells. They also produce compounds that may control or contribute to chronic pain. As we identify the compounds, controlling their levels may be the next big discovery in managing chronic pain. One compound that is increased in chronic pain sufferers is the translocator protein. Studying the protein, one can see where glial cell activation has occurred. Using the special scans, the protein and glial cell activity can be measured, and hopefully in the near future, controlled.

Understanding the connection between pain, translocator proteins and glial cells is important to find effective treatments. Medications that may control chronic pain would decrease both translocator protein levels and glial activation. If a medication is working on these cells effectively, then the brain scans may change. As the science improves, hopefully we can use this knowledge to more fully identify the scope of problems with chronic pain and determine effective management strategies that actually work to reverse the changes and return the brain to healthier function.

Migraines and Daith Piercings

Daith piercings are a specific type of ear piercing. The ear cartilage midline toward the front of the ear is pierced. This type of ear piercing has been around for 3,000 years, but the name for this type of piercing was probably started in the 1990’s. The placement of the piercing is at the entrance to the ear canal and has symbolic meaning as the “Guardian to the Gate.” These piercing can be quite painful since they are through bony cartilage, and care must be given to keep them clean and to prevent infection.

Daith Peircing

Migraines are a vascular type of headache. They occur more commonly in women and sometimes have a very specific trigger, such as certain foods. Management of these headaches can be quite simple, from avoiding specific triggers to the use of Excedrin. However, sometimes those management techniques prove ineffective, making the headache hard to treat. One of the non-traditional treatments beyond medication has been acupuncture. One of the areas of needle placement has been in the ear, and commonly in the same general area where Daith piercings are placed.

Recently, some people who have received a Daith piercing have coincidentally found improvement with their migraine headaches. It is not universal, and it is has not been studied formally. The correlation is based on the success for some people with acupuncture in the same region of the Daith piercing.

If a person enjoys ear piercing and suffers from frequent headaches, it may be worthwhile to consider getting this spot pierced. Since body piercings are generally less than $100, this may be a very economical treatment alternative. If you suffer migraines and are very unsure whether you want a piercing, trying acupuncture first would be a good alternative to determine if this treatment may be successful. If this is not working, and the migraines are not being well managed, further discussions with your medical practitioner about treatment options is warranted.

Post Story Edit

This post has received an incredible amount of views in the last few months, and many people have spoken out about their experience with a Daith piercing. However, I am a little disappointed to how some people are quick to chastise this option, saying it isn’t rooted in any concrete evidence. Many of those people likely saw the headline or skimmed the article and assumed I was simply trying get people to shell out more money for an unproven option that, in their opinion, can at best provide some pseudo-placebo effect. Having read their comments and seen stories refuting Daith piercings, I just wanted to clarify some misconceptions.

First, anyone who read the above post can clearly see that we’re not saying this is a well-studied, documented and thoroughly researched alternative. Hopefully we can find more hard evidence, and scientists are learning more every day about the underlying reasons why regionalized stimulation may help with headaches. I wrote a recent post that sheds more light on the role the vagus nerve plays in the equation and how the medical community is continuing to search for concrete answers.

Secondly, unless you’ve walked a mile in the shoes of someone who suffers from chronic pain or headaches, please don’t be quick to chastise potential solutions. Like many of this site’s readers, I deal with chronic pain (in my back), and at times I find myself at my wit’s end trying to manage and control pain. People who are considering a Daith piercing for their headache pain aren’t considering it as their first option, odds are they’ve seen specialists, tried therapies and medications, avoided certain trigger activities, altered their diets and their sleep schedules or undertaken a myriad of other treatments that haven’t solved their problems. Pain is a very personal issue, and having someone belittle a potential treatment technique, which appears to have worked for some commenters, adds nothing positive to the goal of solving the pain problem. Hope and belief that pain can be resolved is a key aspect of findings pain relief, and while people are certainly entitled to be wary of options lacking concrete medical evidence, I only ask that you consider the person in pain’s perspective before you belittle or demean their curiosity to this relatively new treatment avenue. I’m not trying to quell dissent and I thoroughly enjoy reasoned arguments on both sides of the spectrum, and I completely understand why it’s important to be hesitant of unfounded medical treatments, but if we ignored all potential solutions in their early stages simply because they had yet to be fully researched, the medical world would never evolve. 

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Cohn