Headaches are a relatively common complaint in the United States, with the majority of sufferers women. Both Western and Chinese medicine look at headaches as being the result of an imbalance in the body’s systems. Generally, allopathic medicine identifies the major culprits as: dehydration, high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, kidney problems, allergies, and even sleep disorders. Chinese medicine understands headaches as the result of external (weather, allergies, pathogens) or internal (organs and their respective meridian) factors impeding the flow of the channels. When there is a disruption of flow, diminished nutrients, or a blockage in a channel, headaches may result.

The Chinese medicine patterns for headache include: qi stagnation, blood stasis, phlegm or damp obstruction, hyperactivity of yang, excessive fire, invasion of wind obstructing channels, and deficiency of blood or yin. Many women have menstrual related headaches or get headaches during pregnancy. Chinese medicine theory speculates that this is because before menstruation the woman’s Ren and Chong channels are full of qi and blood, and when the excessive qi and blood empty to the uterus for menstruation, the qi and blood to the head is diminished, causing weakness of the head. When there is weakness, pathogens are better able to take over. Often menstrual headaches will fall into the categories of blood or yin deficiency, blood stasis, and fire flaming upward. Like during menstruation, during pregnancy the qi and blood flows to the uterus to nourish the developing baby, and there is reduced qi and blood for the rest of the body.

Most of the cases of migraines that I see in my clinic are caused by qi stagnation, damp obstruction, or hyperactivity of yang. In cases of hyperactive yang, the common root is blood or yin deficiency not anchoring the yang. In my experience, most migraine sufferers have very good success with acupuncture. Typically when a patient arrives and has a headache, acupuncture treatment reduces the intensity of the headache significantly, if not completely, within the hour. In the long term, acupuncture reduces the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Most of the severe headaches that I see are caused by blood stasis, often due to a trauma, such as an automotive accident or sports accident. Depending upon the amount of trauma and the constitution of the individual, headaches due to blood stasis are also greatly helped by acupuncture. A number of regular acupuncture treatments typically has great success in alleviating suffering, decreasing quantity of headaches measurably. Another very common headache that I see in clinic are tension headaches. Tension headaches are often brought on by tight muscles and stress. These headaches are treated with the highest success rate in my clinical experience. Acupuncture is hugely helpful for reducing stress levels and cupping and gua sha are wonderful for relaxing tight muscles. 

All the organs have yin and yang aspects, and the head is said to be “the convergence of yang.” When there is high blood pressure, high stress, excess heat, it is easier for yang energy to get out of control and become “hyperactive.” During the spring, yang flourishes and headaches can be more prevalent. Spring is also when the Liver and Gallbladder are at their fullest energy, and if there are any imbalances in these channels headaches may arise more frequently. Also when there is diminished blood and yin, from aging, hemorrhage, overwork, insufficient rest, poor diet with reduced nutrients, yang more easily overtakes the body and “flames upward.” When yang gets out of control, it often results in pain, at the convergence of the yang. These headaches are fairly easily treated immediately, and in the long term acupuncture is very successful in keeping headaches at bay, especially if lifestyle factors contributing are corrected.

Some helpful lifestyle tips for saying goodbye to headaches include: staying well hydrated, avoid or limit alcohol consumption, avoid sodas and diet sodas, daily exercise, stretching, massage, epsom salt baths (supporting proper magnesium levels in the body and relaxing muscles), eating a nutritious whole foods diet, reducing sugar and sweets intake, avoiding processed foods and processed white flours, and meditation. Some foods are also particularly helpful for headaches, especially if headaches are a result of excess damp or heat in the body. Some of these foods include: mung beans, adzuki beans, seaweed, green leafy vegetables, turmeric, garlic and onions. 

If you or someone you love is suffering from migraines or other headaches, try acupuncture for a safe, relaxing, and side effect-free solution.