What Causes Headaches?

No one welcomes a headache, especially if you’ve been getting them repeatedly.   I was one of those people suffering from chronic migraines until I found Chinese medicine.  I had tried all the conventional medications but still found myself in a darkened room, reeling from pain for several days of the month.  After just two acupuncture sessions, my migraines decreased dramatically and now I rarely get them, if ever.  Over time, with the additional help of therapeutic massage, chiropractic, regular exercise and diet/supplementation, I’ve been able to change an inherited trait that has run in my family for generations.  It certainly has changed the way I look at my health and wellness and became a big reason for me wanting to share this medicine.

There are 12 meridians that run in your body like streets in a city, conducting energy where it needs to go.  Every single one of these 12 meridians travels to the head, therefore it is not surprising that traffic jams can occur. Below is a diagram of the external pathways of some of these meridians.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we do not diagnose every patient with a headache or migraine in the same way and dole out the same remedy.  We look at the individual as a unique whole.  Primarily assessing the type of pain, the location of the headache and what aggravates or alleviates the headache, we are able to diagnose the root cause.  For example, a sharp shooting headache in the temples that is aggravated with stress is treated differently than a dull, pressure headache in the forehead worsened with weather changes or a headache that comes on with a woman’s cycle affecting the whole head and accompanied with nausea.  As practitioners, we also look at other factors such as lifestyle or problems with posture, sleep, digestion and previous injuries/surgeries that may be contributing to the situation.

The main causes in TCM that are considered with headache are: 

·       emotional stress – the most frequent cause of headache and tension

·       overwork, overexertion – working long hours without adequate rest depletes one’s resources

·       irregular diet – eating too little to get adequate nutrition or eating too much of the wrong foods

·       head trauma – can be an old or new injury.  Usually the headache is in a fixed location.

·       common cold – tight muscles and sinus congestion can contribute to this kind of acute headache

We work together to correct these imbalances from the inside out and when they are resolved, the headache no longer returns.  A Cochrane review report released in 2009, compiling over 10 trials and over 2000 participants, concluded “that acupuncture could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches.”(1) Another Cochrane review report on migraines compiled the information of 22 trials, also cited that “available studies suggest that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, prophylactic drug treatment, and has fewer adverse effects. Acupuncture should be considered a treatment option for patients willing to undergo this treatment.”(2)

So, what are good lifestyle habits that you can adopt at home to prevent or alleviate a headache? 

1.     Drink adequate amounts of clean water every day.

2.     Get a good balance of exercise and rest.

3.     Eat a variety of healthy, whole foods and limit the amount of caffeine that you have in a day.

4.     Practice proper posture.

5.     Acupressure.  Find the acupoint named He Gu or LI4 (located when you bring the thumb and index finger together at the high point of the muscle).  Relax and breathe deeply while applying deep, firm pressure

If you are still feeling challenged by headaches/migraines, come on in and talk to one of our staff about your options.

(1) Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, and White AR., “Acupuncture for tension-type headache,” in “Cochrane Database Syst Rev.”, [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19160338], 21 Jan 2009.

(2)  Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, and White AR., “Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis,” in “Cochrane Database Syst Rev.”, [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19160193], 21 Jan 2009.