What does this piercing have to do with migraines?

A tragus piercing is a type of ear piercing that places a hoop or stud through the cartilage that partially covers your ear canal.

The tragus itself is located right below another commonly pierced part of ear cartilage called the daith. Daith piercings have become a popular alternative treatment for migraine headaches.

Although the evidence for daith piercings as a migraine treatment is mostly anecdotal, some people believe that tragus piercings could work in the same way to help relieve migraine pain.

Migraine symptoms can vary widely, but they’re primarily characterized by:

  • intense pain on one side of your head
  • increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Scientists are actively investigating how, and if, a piercing could alleviate migraine pain. What we know so far about tragus and daith piercings for migraines is limited. Some migraine specialists believe that a piercing could do more harm than good.

Keep reading to learn more.

How it’s said to work

The theory behind ear cartilage piercings for migraines is similar to the theory behind acupuncture. Acupuncturists believe that electricity, nerve endings, and pressure points in your body can be stimulated, realigned, and otherwise modified to treat pain.

In the case of tragus piercings, the theory hinges on the vagus nerve. This is the longest of the 10 nerves extending from the bottom of your brain into the rest of your body.

Some health conditions, like depression and epilepsy, have already been proven to respond to vagus nerve stimulation, in cases where other treatments didn’t work.

According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers are looking into ways that vagus nerve stimulation may also treat headaches. People who get piercings to treat migraines believe that puncturing the daith or tragus provides vagus nerve stimulation.

What the research says

There’s some research to indicate that this theory holds up, at least regarding the daith.

We know less about how a tragus piercing might work to treat migraine pain, although it could work in a similar way to Daith piercing. Most of what we know about tragus piercings for migraines is purely anecdotal.

There may be a connection between acupuncture treatments and piercings. The tragus and the daith are at roughly the same pressure point on your ear that acupuncturists target to treat migraine headaches.

Acupuncturists place needles in ear cartilage to relieve migraine symptoms. It’s thought that acupuncture activates channels in your brain that turn pain off.

Acupuncture for migraine headaches has been better researched than piercing treatments. Several reviews of the medical literature conclude that acupuncture works better than sham or placebo treatment for migraine prevention and relief.

Is it a placebo effect?

When a treatment works simply because a person believes it’s working, researchers chalk up results to a psychological phenomenon called “the placebo effect.” According to some headache specialists, that’s what’s happening with ear cartilage piercings for migraines.

But since acupuncture for migraines is shown to work better than a placebo, and cartilage piercings for migraine are operating from a similar theory, we really can’t know the answer. More research is needed to determine whether tragus piercings have the potential to treat migraines.

Does it matter which side the piercing is on?

If you want to get a tragus piercing to treat migraines, the side it’s on matters. Anecdotal evidence suggests that you should get the piercing on the side of your head where your pain tends to cluster. Stimulating the vagus nerve on the side of your head where migraines start would, in theory, be important to making sure the treatment works.

Are there any side effects or risks to consider?

There’s a lot to consider when deciding to get a tragus piercing. The piercing can be painful for some, and if you ever decide to take it out, it’ll leave a small (though visible) mark.

Cartilage piercings are also more likely to get infected than lobe piercings. This may be because cartilage piercings are in closer proximity to your hair and are more likely to get tugged. And if your cartilage does become infected, antibiotics aren’t always effective.

In some cases, bacterial infections from piercings can lead to sepsis or toxic shock syndrome.

There’s also the risk that your piercing won’t work. While anecdotal evidence suggests a tragus piercing could relieve migraines, there’s no way to know for sure before you try it yourself.

It can take anywhere from four months to a year for a piercing to be considered “healed.” You shouldn’t get this piercing if you have hemophilia, diabetes, an autoimmune condition or any other health condition that takes your body longer to heal.

What comes next?

If you’re interested in getting a tragus piercing, make sure you:

  • like the way that the tragus piercing looks
  • understand how to take care of the piercing properly
  • have had all of your questions addressed by your doctor and your piercing professional
  • can afford to have this treatment (tragus piercings tend to be more expensive and insurance plans don’t cover it as a migraine treatment)

If you move forward with the piercing, make sure you choose a reputable piercing parlor. Both the parlor and your potential piercer should have the appropriate licensing.

If you have any questions about the piercing, schedule a consultation appointment with your piercer.

You may also want to speak to your doctor about other options for migraine treatment before committing to this one.