Headache is one of the most common health problems we suffer. People can suffer from migraines or tension headaches for years and begin to accept this as how life is, a new normal. But it’s not normal, it’s a sign that something is not working properly in your body-mind. We can use Chinese medicine and acupuncture to identify what is not working and re-establish health so that headaches no longer occur.
What is a headache and what causes them?
Migraine is a severe form of recurrent headache, lasting from four to 72 hours, on one side of the head and often associated with nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity. Migraine is commonly triggered by stress, fatigue, menstruation and weather changes.
A tension headache is usually felt as bilateral severe continuous pressure. It may last a few weeks or longer and is commonly associated with stress and depression.
Other common causes of headaches include pregnancy, poor posture, sinus congestion, high blood pressure, overwork and fatigue.
How can acupuncture help?
Acupuncture is an effective and natural approach for relieving migraine and tension headaches.
Taking a painkiller simply masks the symptoms of a headache. It may be helpful in the short term however it will not resolve the issue and headaches will continue to recur. You can instead use acupuncture to move towards long-term resolution.
The Chinese medicine system identifies headaches arising from dysfunction in various organ systems or channels (meridians), each of which will present differently in terms of location and nature of pain. We will identify which type of headache you suffer from and what is causing it, and then we use acupuncture to help your body-mind re-establish health and correct the cause of the headaches.
What can I expect in an acupuncture treatment?
I will initially ask you many questions – about the nature and location of pain (is the pain dull or sharp, is it mostly on your forehead or temples, behind the eyes or base of the neck), and about your overall health (your digestion, skin, diet, work habits and personal history). This helps me identify where the dysfunction is occurring, and what may be causing it in the first place.
A key to understanding your health is that symptoms are a sign that something in your life is not working. By simply masking symptoms we keep living lives that are out of balance and the issue doesn’t resolve. Through the course of treatment, we need to understand what’s really going on for you and tailor the treatment accordingly. It is highly individualised. You may also discover changes you need to make in your life – such as changing unhelpful habits – that will assist long-term resolution.
How many treatments do I need?
How many treatments you need will depend on how long you have had suffered from migraines/ headaches and how quickly you respond to acupuncture. In recent clinical trials, patient’s with migraines typically received 15 acupuncture treatments over a 12-week period to experience a significant reduction in frequency of attacks.
What other resources are available?
I have found that patients who present with migraine commonly experience stress and anxiety, and stress is a common trigger for tension headaches. I developed a routine of simple meditation-acupressure-qigong-relaxation techniques to help bring a sense of calm and groundedness, suitable for anyone to do. It’s available to download as a video, here for free.
Where to from here?
Keen to delve into the scientific literature supporting acupuncture for headaches?
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Vertosick EA, et al. ‘Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine’. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016(6):Cd001218. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3
- Acupuncture is effective to relieve migraine. Acupuncture can reduce the frequency of attacks and is at least as effective as prophylactic drugs but with fewer reported side effects. Patient’s with migraines typically received 15 acupuncture treatments over a 12 week period to experience a significant reduction in frequency of attacks.
Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Shin, B.-C., Vickers, A. & White, A.R. 2016, ‘Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache’, The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, vol. 4, p. CD007587.
- Acupuncture is effective to reduce the frequency of chronic tension-type headache.