by Clark and Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have enjoyed a long and successful history of treating a wide variety of headache patterns. Migraine headaches currently affect around 5 million Americans. The cause of migraines eludes many of its sufferers. Certain foods have been identified as triggers. Stress, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances have also been found to play a role. Many people with migraines feel hopeless, as they have tried conventional medications such as imitrex without good effect.
In Chinese medicine, migraines have a few different causes. The number one pattern underlying migraines is liver qi stagnation. This means that the functional energy of the liver becomes stuck and hyperactive. This is usually due to pent up anger or a chronic inability to express one’s emotions. Liver related headaches tend to run along the temples, as the gall bladder meridian, which is closely connected with the liver, travels through this area.
Another cause of migraine headaches is kidney deficiency which is synonymous with adrenal fatigue. This pattern is due to overwork, excessive will power, and the misuse of one’s ambition. When this is the predominant pattern, one will experience migraines when they are resting. They work hard all week and run on adrenaline, then collapse on the weekend and get a migraine. The bladder meridian, which is closely associated with the kidney meridian, runs along the nape of the neck. This is the primary origin of headaches due to a kidney deficient pattern.
Acupuncture is certainly worth pursuing as a powerful treatment option for migraines. The typical course of treatment in our practice is once a week for 6-8 visits, at which time we will assess where to go from there. Acupuncture is usually a deeply relaxing experience that optimizes one’s overall level of health. It has no side effects.
Chinese herbs are typically used in conjunction with acupuncture. The following herbal formulas can be considered in the treatment of migraines:
xiao yao wan: for migraines that occur around the menstrual cycle. This is the best formula for regulating the liver and underlying hormonal imbalances in women.
cnidium 9: This is a formula by 7 Forests that utilizes a variety of blood vitalizing herbs that have been clinically proven to be effective in the treatment of headaches.
Head Q: This is a formula by Health Concerns that provides strong analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects in the treatment of migraines.
Ge gen tang: This formula is typically used for neck tension and headache at the onset of a cold. It can also be used for chronic neck tension and occipital headaches.
Other Treatment Options
For most migraine sufferers, reducing stress plays a crucial role in healing this condition. Yoga and meditation can be incredibly helpful practices in this regard. These practices help to restore circulation through movement, awareness, and deep breathing. Many people with chronic pain have been able to heal their symptoms using these techniques alone.
Basic dietary considerations:
- Give up caffeine and alcohol for 2 months and look for improvement in symptoms
- Drink 8 glasses of filtered water daily. Dehydration plays an integral role in many headache patterns
- Avoid inflammatory foods: sugars, refined carbs
- Eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables
- Eliminate high trigger foods such as chocolate, avocado, coffee, and peanuts for a period of time
With the right combination of treatments and a strong commitment to improved health, most patients respond very well to the Chinese medical treatment of migraines.