Image credit Jef Saunders. Used with permission.

Migraines impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. They are difficult and expensive to treat and many patients are left suffering without effective solutions.

So when last week the Huffington Post published an article titled Can Daith Piercings Stop Migraines? Here’s What You Need To Know About The Growing Trend a lot of people got really excited. The Huff Po article stimulated a flurry of follow up articles (including ones with optimistic titles like This Simple Piercing Has Completely Cured People’s Migraines) and thousands of discussions on social media.

So can something as simple, inexpensive, and easy as an ear piercing REALLY cure this miserable affliction?

THE BOTTOM LINE: NO, A DAITH PIERCING WON’T CURE YOUR MIGRAINES

The short answer to this question, unfortunately, is “no”. As detailed in the article below:

  • The daith (rhymes with “moth”) does not come anywhere close to stimulating points that acupuncture experts use to treat migraine headaches.
  • Clinical experience suggests that body piercings offer temporary (1-2 weeks) therapeutic benefit at best. They definitely do not represent a long term cure for any condition, including migraines.
  • The daith is an advanced piercing that is often done incorrectly and with inappropriate jewelry. A bad piercing and/or the wrong jewelry is likely to result in excessive pain and serious problems with healing, including the formation of unsightly (and sometimes permanent) bumps around the piercing, as well as potentially serious infections.
  • All cartilage piercings require diligent aftercare (including daily washing and soaking with saline) for the entire six month period of time that it takes to heal. During the healing period ear buds and swimming must be avoided.

AN ACUPUNCTURIST’S TAKE

The location of the daith — does it make sense from an acupuncture point of view?

As explained in this article, I have used ear acupuncture to great benefit in my practice for nearly thirteen years. I have found ear acupuncture to be amazingly effective for a wide variety of conditions, including migraines, insomnia, stress, gynecological problems, sciatica, joint pain, and many others.

There are dozens of acupuncture points in the outer ear and very precise location of each point is extremely important. Locate a point just a millimeter or two wrong and the treatment won’t be effective.

I was surprised when I saw the Huffington Post article claiming that the daith piercing is effective for migraine headaches because the points stimulated by the daith (marked in the photo below with red dots) are not even close to the points that I might consider using to treat migraines with ear acupuncture (marked in the photo below with green dots).

The points most directly stimulated by the daith piercing are related to the mouth and the anus, body parts which obviously have nothing to do with headaches!

The red dots indicate the points stimulated by a daith piercing. The green dots represent the points an acupuncturist might use to treat migraine headaches.

The red dots indicate the points stimulated by a daith piercing. The green dots represent the points an acupuncturist might use to treat migraine headaches.

Can body piercings treat pain or cure disease?

As an auriculotherapy (ear acupuncture) expert and body piercing enthusiast, the question of whether ear piercing could be used therapeutically captured my imagination a decade ago. Years later I was fortunate to host Elayne Angel in my clinic for ten days seeking an answer to that question.

There are few people in the world who know as much about body piercing as Elayne Angel does. She has personally performed over 40,000 body piercings and has worked in the industry since the 1980s. Elayne is the consummate professional and is revered within the piercing industry and medical field for her knowledge, skill, ethics, and commitment to the safety and wellbeing of her clients. She is the author of The Piercing Bible: the Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing. I am proud to call her a good friend.

During our work together, Elayne and I pierced several dozen individuals eager to find out whether ear piercing might offer a more permanent solution to their pain than acupuncture. I then followed those individuals, tracking any benefits or side effects that they noticed from the piercing. Although our experiment was not scientific, it represents clear clinical evidence that is directly relevant to this topic.

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.

ELAYNE ANGEL, INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BODY PIERCING PIONEER, WEIGHS IN WITH HER EXPERT OPINION

Elayne Angel

Internationally renown body piercing expert, Elayne Angel

Like me, Elayne has gotten lots of emails asking what she thinks of the daith piercings for migraines. Fortunately she was willing to take the time to answer a few questions for this article.

Kristen: So if a person gets a daith piercing in hopes of relieving their migraine headaches, what can they expect as far as the care that it will require as it is healing? How long does the healing process take? Are there any risks associated with this particular piercing?

Elayne: There are risks associated with all piercings, since they break the protective barrier of the skin. That’s why choosing a skilled and experienced piercer is so important. The healing of a daith piercing can take a very extended period of time—six months or longer! During that entire time appropriate aftercare must be followed. 

This care includes avoiding submerging in any bodies of water, doing a daily cleaning with mild liquid soap, and saline soaks to foster healing. Cartilage piercings are prone to developing bumps, which can be difficult to get rid of, and they can be pretty unsightly as well. Also, these piercings can remain tender for a long time. It could be difficult or impossible to wear ear buds or headphones, and if they are worn, it is crucial to keep such items clean.

Kristen: So when you and I met back in 2010, I had a daith piercing myself. I got it because I loved the look of it, not because I had headaches. But my piercing drove you nuts and you eventually talked me into removing it, explaining that it would never heal properly. Though I didn’t realize it before you pointed it out, the piercer who did my daith did it really poorly. You later explained to me that the daith piercing is a very advanced piercing, with lots of special considerations for placement and jewelry. Can you tell us more about this?

Elayne: Cartilage piercings are generally harder to heal than other areas of the body, because cartilage doesn’t have its own blood supply. Proper placement of the daith is deep into the most recessed portion of the ear, which makes it very challenging to seat this piercing properly. As you know, the surrounding region is comprised of hard cartilage, so it forms a sort of barrier that blocks easy access to the correct spot. Between this, and the fact that many piercers do not have sufficient training, daith piercings are often placed too superficially. If the jewelry is seated in just a small amount of tissue, then there is a higher likelihood of healing problems including migration.

Also, I regularly see jewelry in daith piercings that is not of the appropriate size. The jewelry then gets caught up on surrounding structures leading to unnecessary pain, irritation, excess scar tissue formation, migration, and possibly rejection. I’ve seen so many photos of this online, including in the original article on this topic that appeared in the Huffington Post. Not only is the bar FAR too long, but also the piercing is too shallow/superficial. Not only that, it looks as though the lower end of the bar wasn’t closed fully. That can result in other issues including accidental jewelry loss, which might actually be a blessing in the case of this poorly done piercing. Or the rough gap could pass into the piercing channel, which would be extremely irritating, and also brings added risk of infection.

Further, cartilage piercings can be quite sensitive and tender. Because of the challenges in placing the daith, consumers can expect to experience quite a lot of excess discomfort or pain at the hands of unskilled piercers.

In your case, I recall that you were wearing a ring. Due to the recessed position of the piercing, your piercer had used tools (rather than her fingers) to close the ring, and she’d scratched it pretty badly. Every time that jewelry moved even slightly, it was causing irritation. And for this piercing, such movement is natural with facial expressions, chewing, and speaking. The scratches also increase the risk of infection, as bacteria can lodge in the irregular surface. This also an issue for body jewelry that does not have a super-smooth, mirror finish. Many, many piercers use cheap jewelry that has this defective surface. Though all members of the Association of Professional Piercers use high quality jewelry that does not have that problem, so if you elect to get any piercing, please choose a professional from the APP website. 

Kristen: A few months back Lenny Kravitz’s piercing got a lot of attention after a wardrobe malfunction during a concert and, because you actually performed Lenny’s piercing, you were interviewed by several media outlets about it. Now there’s lots of buzz surrounding the daith piercing. What happens when a particular piercing gets popularized in the media? Do you have any concerns about the recent attention that the daith piercing is getting?

Elayne: Yes, over the years I’ve seen media attention on piercings have phenomenal effects on the explosive popularity of particular placements including navel, nostril, septum, triple forward helix (another very tough and problematic set of piercings), and others.

I have also noticed that the lowest element of society often tries to capitalize on whatever is popular, solely for their own profit. In this case, the results will be plenty of disappointment that migraines aren’t improved by the piercing. And there will be a whole lot of poorly placed piercings that are very painful to receive and extremely difficult to heal. Overall, this could result in negative sentiments toward piercings, which is really a shame because piercings can be extremely empowering when done for the right reasons. Sadly, getting a daith piercing to cure migraine headaches is not among them.

Here is an excellent article on this topic, written by a body piercer who specializes in the daith piercing.

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