Headaches happen to all of us from time to time and they can range from a minor nuisance for a few minutes to a multiple day migraine that forces us to stay in bed. The reason for headaches and migraines can vary from something as minor as low water intake or can be due to serious neurological problems, and because of this any chronic or serious headaches should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional. Most often times, we will reach for a pain reliever, take it with some water and hopefully it goes away. However, with chronic headaches or more severe migraines, this solution does not always work and can lead to health problems down the road if pain relievers are relied on too heavily. In addition this approach does not reach the root cause of a headache, meaning that even though we can stop them temporarily, they will still continue to return. This is where Chinese medicine in the form of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and tui-na massage can help to find and treat the root of the issue that is causing the headaches so that they stop for good. Recent studies have found that acupuncture and herbs are great for headache relief. After a description of how Chinese medicine views headaches, we’ll go over a technique that you can do to get rid of the common day to day ones without medications.
Chinese medicine always tries to reach a differential diagnosis to find out why something is happening so that they causative factor can be treated. As such, not everyone’s headaches are caused by the same things and may require a different treatment from the next person’s to ensure good results. There are a few main reasons why people get headaches within the model of Chinese medicine. Most common is due to what is referred to as Qi and Blood Stagnation. This means that there is a lack of circulation of qi and blood in the head and brain that is causing pain. The reason why can vary from emotional issues such as stress, anger and frustration, to tight muscles in the neck and shoulders, to something as serious as a head trauma. Another common issue is due to stagnation of qi and blood due to a deficiency or lack of qi and blood. In this case there is not enough qi and blood to move through the vessels and keep them open, which also causes pain. Reasons for this can be from nutritional deficiencies including dehydration, constitutional deficiencies, menopause and other conditions where the body is more depleted. The last common factor for the cause of headaches comes in the form of what is referred to as a wind invasion, which generally refers to colds, flus, and allergy attacks. Wind is a concept in Chinese medicine that refers to something that enters the body from the outside, often quickly, and often accompanied by something else, such as heat, cold or dampness. Wind usually will enter/attack the top of the body first, which is why sometime the first sign of an oncoming cold or flu is a headache along with a stiff neck and shoulders. Often times, acupuncturists will ask about the quality, intensity, location, and time or frequency of the pain, which all can be good indicators to help come to a correct diagnosis. With each of these issues, a proper diagnosis and treatment can help treat not only the immediate pain and discomfort of a headache or migraine, but also help to treat the root issue causing them.
So now that we know why headaches happen and how they are classified in terms of Chinese medicine, let’s take a look at how to get some relief from a headache without the use of pain relievers. Acupressure can be very effective to help relieve headache pain, especially if it is used quickly, the sooner you can apply acupressure, the better the results may be. Take a look at the picture at the top of the page, the three acupuncture points listed above can be used to treat almost any acute headache with the method I am going to describe below. Heart 8 and Pericardium 8 are located in the space between the hand bones in the locations shown in the picture, and Lung 10 is located in between the thumb bone and muscle in the point shown. The best way to do this is start with one hand and apply some good pressure with your opposite thumb to each of the points, do this with both hands and find the point that is most sensitive or tender. Once you have found the one that is most reactive, apply some continuous, strong pressure to that point until you notice a change in the headache. Most often this works pretty quickly. The reason this works is that the acupuncture channels that these points connect to are paired with all of the channels that run along the head, usually a headache is due to stagnation along a channel, these points can help let off some of the pressure caused by that blockage, resulting in some relief. As stated above though, this is best thought of as a band-aid type of tool, something to get you through, best when done early in the headache, and should not be thought of as a substitute for appropriate medical care when needed.
I have seen very good success treating headaches and migraines using acupuncture and herbal medicine in my clinic, so if you are in Aurora CO, Denver CO, or any of the surrounding cities and are interested in relief from headaches and migraines with acupuncture or Chinese herbs, please do not hesitate to call or email me, I would love to speak with you!