Headaches are like people—there are all kinds and they have distinct personalities. There are headaches caused by stress, allergies, sinus problems, PMS, or an old injury, as well as migraines and cluster headaches. If you suffer from chronic headaches, you know that they have a kind of personality—when and how they start, where you feel them, and the quality of the pain, whether dull and achy or sharp and stabbing.
In Chinese medicine, there are also distinct kinds of headaches, and the qualities of your headache help determine how best to treat them. In fact, your acupuncturist can only treat your headaches for good by first determining the underlying cause and treating the source of the problem.
Using the principles of Chinese medicine, here are some of the things a practitioner will take into consideration to get to the bottom of that pain in your head:
-Is it internal or external? Uh, what does that mean, Lynn? Well, a headache caused by the weather or changes in the weather—barometric pressure, humidity, heat, cold, or wind—is considered to be an external headache. They usually begin suddenly, can be severe and continuous. An internal headache is caused by some kind of imbalance of your internal organs (Check out Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health for more information). They are generally characterized by a slower onset, episodic pain, and are not too severe.
-Is it an excess or deficient headache? This one needs some explaining, too. A headache that is excess in nature is due to some kind of stagnation. You can think of this one as a kind of constriction of the energetic pathways or blood vessels, which cause pain in your head. This kind of headache is a bummer—the pain is usually severe, stabbing, and in a fixed location. You can often point to where it starts with one finger.
A deficient headache means that you’re run down in some way, low energy, tired blood, hungry, low blood sugar, whatever, and it’s causing your headache. These are usually chronic in nature, and the pain is dull and diffuse.
-Location. Where your headache occurs tells your acupuncturist what energetic pathways are involved. It can be on the top of your head, in the sinus area (forehead and face), the back, sides, and even one-sided. Also, the location of your headache can also offer clues to the cause. For example, stress headaches tend to begin in the shoulders and neck and creep upward into the back of your head. Migraines tend to be one sided, and sinus headaches wreak havoc in the forehead and face.
-Accompanying symptoms. As if your headaches aren’t enough misery, they frequently can cause other problems like nausea, dizziness, eye pain, and sensitivity to light. Also, if your headaches are brought on by stress or strong emotions, it is another clue to the cause and how best to treat them.
So, you’ve heard that acupuncture is good for pain and can treat headaches, but what exactly will an acupuncturist do? Well, the first order of business is to figure out the cause, using all of the above clues as well as taking a complete health history for more information about you and your headaches. Your practitioner will determine exactly where the pain is, meaning what energy pathways are affected, and come up with a treatment plan. That plan will include acupuncture to relieve the pain and eliminate/treat the cause of your headaches. Your practitioner may also combine acupuncture with the use of an herbal formula, food therapy (especially if certain foods trigger your headaches), and lifestyle changes. (Relax; it’s usually things like reducing stress or staying out of the wind.)
The bottom line is that acupuncture can effectively treat your headaches, and the good news is you can quit popping Tylenol or Excedrin Migraine for good.