Everyone has had a headache at some point in their life. Most of the time, they go away on their own, and in a couple of hours, you have forgotten that you ever had one. Others frequently have headaches, and then there are those who suffer from migraines. It may be monthly, or weekly, but no matter how frequently or infrequently, for many who do experience regular headaches and migraines, you know just how debilitating they can be. What many people don’t know is that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help ease and reduce the number and severity of headaches and migraines
There are several types of headaches, each with their own set of symptoms, but I find the most common headaches that people come to see me about are;
Tension headache – The most common type of headache, pain is generally felt at the back of the head and neck which may refer to the eyes, or pain may be felt around the temples. They are usually cause by muscle tension, poor posture or a poor pillow resulting in the alignment of the neck being out. They may also be caused by trigger points in the muscle due to ongoing stress or again poor posture
Sinus headache – these are the headache you often get when you have a cold and are all blocked up. If you have sinusitis, you probably suffer from this type of headache frequently. Often in this case they are treated with decongestants, or antibiotics
Migraines – A migraine is a type of headache and are normally throbbing in nature and last between 4 and 72 hours. They usually occur on one side of the head, and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as:
Sensitivity to light, sound and/smell
Numbness and/or tingling down the arm
Slurred speech or inability to speak
Neck and shoulder stiffness
Some people may have migraines that present with the accompanying symptoms, but without the pain. They may be triggered by certain foods, bright or flickering lights, stress, hormones, skipping meals, loud noises, strong smells or even weather changes, with some people being more sensitive than others.
So how can Chinese Medicine help?
As with all conditions in Chinese Medicine, migraines are broken down into categories based on what is causing them. Some common patterns in Chinese Medicine are;
Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold – These types of headaches and migraines may occur when you catch a cold, or you may have started to develop re-occurring migraines after a particularly severe cold or flu. They may also be triggered but the weather, either being out in the cold or in the heat for too long.
Wind-Damp – These are the headaches that come on when there is a sudden change of weather. You may feel like a weather barometer because you always get a headache right before that storm front comes through.
Blood stasis due to injury – remember that car accident where you had whiplash, and ever since you have had headaches? In Chinese Medicine that injury cause blood stasis, and the pain can is often sharp, like being stabbed by needles
Liver Yang Uprising – These are the headaches or migraines that tend to occur more frequently in Spring. They may also be triggered by frustration and anger.
Deficiency – Deficiency patterns usually present with a dull, aching type of headache. Depending on the type of deficiency (Qi, Blood, Yin, Jing) and the meridian affected, can determine the other symptoms and the triggers. Deficient headaches and migraines may be triggered by hormone changes, emotional and physical stress and fatigue.
There are many other types of headaches and migraines, and often people don’t have just one type but may have a combination of patterns that is leading to their headaches.
Treatments are based on your diagnosis; if you have a deficiency headache then that deficiency is treated, or if you have a deficiency with a stagnation, then acupuncture and herbs are given to remove the stagnation and tonifying the deficiency meridians. Advice is given based on the type of headache or migraine that you have been diagnosed with.
There are a few things you can do to help if you frequently suffer from headaches or migraines. Even if you don’t, a few small adjustments may help to prevent you from suffering from them frequently in the future
Cover Up! If it is a cold and windy day (and if you live in Melbourne like me, that isn’t uncommon), then make sure to keep your neck and head covered. Cold causes the muscles to contract, causing muscle tension, but also obstructing the flow of Qi and blood to the head.
Keep your feet warm – if your feet get wet or cold, that cold and damp can enter the meridians and cause headaches later.
Peppermint tea – In Chinese Medicine, peppermint is herb used for treating Liver patterns. It is also great if you are feeling stressed or frustrated.
Relax, take time for yourself – Emotional stressed can often trigger headache and migraines, and today’s lifestyles are fast-paced. We are often in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which doesn’t give our bodies time to heal. Set aside time for yourself every day, whether that is going for a walk, reading a book, listening to music, painting, anything that is for you. Stop and let your body’s nervous systems switch over to the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system.
Caffeine – if you frequently have migraines and drink substantial amounts of coffee, try cutting back to 1-2 cups a day. For others, caffeine may be beneficial
Steam baths are great for clearing congestion. Add some citrus peel, or lemon essential oil with some eucalyptus essential oil. They are also antiviral and antibacterial so great for those with sinusitis or with a head cold. If using essential oils, spend the money and get excellent quality oils. Make sure that they are an essential oil and not a fragrance – these don’t have the properties we need, even if they do smell nice
Posture – if you sit at an office desk all day, get up and walk around at least every hour. Do stretches and exercise, such as the Brugger’s exercise, to stretch and relax the muscle. Try rotating your shoulders throughout the day. I often give my clients stretches to open their chest and neck muscles, which can become tight due to their ‘slumped’ posture. Also think about investing in a high-quality pillow. If your head and neck are not correctly supported, your neck may come out of its correct alignment. In this case, try seeing an osteopath to have your neck adjusted.
Diet – For some a deficiency in magnesium, zinc, or vitamin E may be contributing to their headaches. Try adding unrefined vegetable, nut and seed oils to your diet, and eating more legumes, nuts, seeds, like cashews, almonds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds to your diet. If using a supplement, ensure you get a superior quality to limit the amount of toxins and to ensure you are getting the most out of the supplement. For others, especially if you work in an environment where you are exposed to toxins (paint, metals, gases), a detox may be required.
Keep a diary – if you do suffer from frequent migraines or headaches, try keeping a diary and note down foods, exercise, weather, emotional and physical stresses and for women also note your menstrual cycle. By keeping a diary it can help to find a pattern to see what may be triggering the headaches.
Note: if you have a known allergy to any of the foods listed, do not consume them. If you have a known allergy to any of the essential oils listed, do not use. If you develop any side effects to the foods, supplements or essential oils, stop consumption/use immediately. If symptoms do not subside, seek out medical help.
Regarding detoxes, it is best when attempting to detox to do so under the supervision of a trained professional.