HEADACHE & MIGRAINE
No Drugs Required
What kind of headaches does acupuncture help to treat?
Cluster headaches get their name from the pattern in which they appear, which is typically a cyclical cluster of a few headaches in succession with a period without headaches. Clusters may last from weeks to months. Cluster headaches have been known to awaken sufferers from sleep in the middle of the night. Cluster headache pain is typically intense, and the pain focuses in and around the eye on one side only. Fortunately for most, cluster headaches are not very common. The cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but doctors believe they are caused by an irregularity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain. Unlike migraines, cluster headaches are not associated with triggers, like certain foods, hormonal changes or stress.
Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache. Tension headache pain is usually generalised (you can’t point to one area of pain), dull and achy. The pain is often mild to moderate. The most common feeling is that there’s a tight band around your head. The cause of tension headaches are not understood. Tension headache pain often involves neck tension, and relieving tension in the neck will often improve headache pain. Tension headaches can also be related to eye strain. Tension headaches, unlike migraines, do not have any associated sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, one-sided weakness or numbness, or slurred speech.
A migraine is usually a one-sided headache with intense throbbing pain. Migraines are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and sensitivity to sound. Migraine pain is often severe and significantly impacts a person’s quality of life for hours, even days, at a time. Migraines often have tell-tale warning signs that signal their onset, like visual disturbances (flashes of light), blind spots or tingling in the extremities. Migraines typically have triggers, like certain foods, hormonal changes and stress. A diet avoiding tyramine-containing foods is often prescribed.
Sinus headache are headaches felt mostly around the eyes, in the cheeks and forehead. They are generally caused by sinusitis, which is the inflammation of the membranes lining your sinuses. These headaches sometimes feel like having a heavy towel on the head and may be throbbing or squeezing in nature. They may also be related to changes in weather. Sinus headaches are often chronic, especially in allergy sufferers or people with structural abnormalities in the nose and sinuses.
Fibromyalgia and headache
People with fibromyalgia experience aches and pains all over their bodies, including head pain. Some people with fibromyalgia also have migraines. For more on fibromyalgia, please visit the Fibromyalgia pain page.
When do I need to see a doctor about my headaches?
You should always mention your headaches to your doctor if they occur more than occasionally because headaches can be a sign of a more serious condition. If you’ve already discussed your headaches with your doctor, but the pattern or nature of the headaches have changed, you should discuss this with your doctor again. If you have a severe headache with abrupt onset, headache accompanied by a high fever, stiff neck, and nausea and/or vomiting, or headache following a head injury, you should contact your doctor immediately.
How does a doctor diagnose and treat headache?
A doctor will conduct a physical exam, medical history (including family history), and neurological exam. Your doctor may also order an MRI or CT scan. From there a pharmaceutical prescription is likely.
How does acupuncture help to treat headache pain?
I’ve mentioned on other pages that acupuncturists do a lot of talking with their patients. When treating for headaches, this conversation is of the utmost importance. It’s very important to determine when the headaches started, where you feel the pain, when you feel the pain, what the pain itself feels like. It’s also important to get a general picture of a person’s overall health and wellness. This information allows me to determine what acupuncturists call the pattern of disharmony. A patient may have multiple patterns, so I always start with the predominant one. It’s kind of like peeling an onion - balancing subsequent imbalances as the predominant ones resolve.
Acupuncture helps restore the natural balance of energy in the body and improve circulation. This is how acupuncture may help to stop pain. I use herbal medicine to do the same thing from the inside out. The channels that run through the head have strong ties to the digestive system and I have observed that some headache patients also have a digestive system pain connection. Herbs designed to help treat the digestion may also help the symptom of head pain.
A lot of the headache sufferers I talk to are concerned about having acupuncture done on their head because the pain is often severe. Acupuncture is rarely applied to the head when you’re in pain. Instead we use points around the hands and feet whose channels reach up to the head.