Headaches and Acupuncture
by Clark and Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
Headaches are one of the more common patterns we treat in our clinic. Most people have experienced a headache at some time in their life. They are usually a mild to moderate annoyance that is treated using aspirin or NSAID’s such as ibuprofen. For the occasional headache, this can be a quick and easy solution, but often times this serves only to treat the symptom and not the root cause of the pain. Truly effective headache remedies focus on addressing the root cause of the problem. If the root is treated properly, then the headache usually goes away or is greatly reduced in intensity.
Western medicine says that headaches are usually caused by one of several things including dehydration, stress, allergies, mineral deficiencies, or misalignment of bones. Each of these triggers can often be addressed with simple home treatments: Drinking more water to combat dehydration, relaxing or stretching to combat stress, experimenting with diet to discover possible food allergies, supplementing with a calcium/magnesium supplement to address possible mineral deficiency, or getting a chiropractic/osteopathic adjustment to properly align the bones. If these are not enough, a person might choose an NSAID, aspirin, or one of many pharmaceutical drugs that address headaches.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are seventeen different patterns that can cause headaches. Since there are so many different possible causes, it is very important to arrive at a proper diagnosis to discover an effective treatment. One of the main questions that needs to be answered when someone has a headache is whether the condition is a pattern of excess or deficiency. Excess patterns are caused by an overabundance or stagnation of one or more things in the body. Excess patterns as they pertain to headaches usually present with several possible symptoms including: intense and pounding pain in the head, high blood pressure, a red face, a sensation of heat, irritability, body tension, and excessive phlegm or mucous. Deficiency patterns are those in which the body is lacking in one or several essential elements. Deficiency headache patterns can be accompanied by symptoms such as: dull achey head, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, blurry vision, poor digestion, or insomnia. It is very important to have a proper understanding of the excess and deficiency when treating a headache using TCM. Excess patterns need to be cleared or reduced by releasing the accumulated excess and moving the energy and blood in the body. This can be done using acupuncture, massage, exercise and meditation. Deficiency patterns are treated by giving the body what is lacking. This is primarily done with herbs and diet, but also with acupuncture and relaxation techniques.
Headaches are often very treatable. Most commonly they are caused by overwork or experiencing excessive stress without having an effective way to let go of the tension that stress causes. It is as if our heads become too full of information and agendas, the weight of which begins to cause pain. This is why I believe that the most effective treatment for headaches is learning how to properly manage stress. Techniques like meditation, yoga, qi gong, and deep breathing are very effective ways of reducing the effects of stress on the body. If these alone are not enough, then it can be very helpful to look to systems such as TCM that address the root of the problem to offer a more effective and permanent solution.