Relieving Headaches with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions such as sinus disease, allergies, dental disorders, head injury or brain tumors. Acupuncture is used to effectively treat primary headaches, namely tension and migraine, which are the most common.


Tension Headaches

 Tension headaches, which occasionally affect most people, are the most common type of headache. They are recurrent headaches particularly onset with stress,  and can last anywhere from minutes to days. These headaches are experienced as a dull pressure, mild or moderate in severity.



Migraine headaches are usually one-sided, pulsating or throbbing, and moderate or severe in intensity. They can be worsened with activity and may be associated with nausea and/or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light or noise. Some patients also experience auras, a neurological symptom that develops gradually over 5-20 minutes. The patient may see brief flashes or waves of light, or changes in their vision. Other common features of auras include vertigo, imbalance, confusion and numbness.


Chronic Headache

Headaches occurring every day or that occurs almost every day are referred to as chronic daily headaches or rebound headaches. Sometimes they resemble tension headaches, and at other times, migraines. The overuse of pain medications can result in aggravating headache patterns.


The Treatment of Headaches in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has an effective, philosophically based framework for headache etiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, acupuncture has been used to treat headaches for thousands of years. The greatest advantage of acupuncture over western medicine is that it does virtually no harm. Unlike synthetic drugs, acupuncture has virtually no side effects, and the procedures for treating headaches are much less invasive.


Acupuncture for Headache Relief

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body, followed by gentle manual or electrical stimulation of the needles. Blood flow in the tissues increases when small vessels around the area of the needle dilate. While actions designed to increase circulation are generally an excellent treatment for pain, such a treatment is not beneficial in the treatment of headache. Because the pain of a migraine may be associated with the dilation of blood vessels in the head, increasing circulation in this area can worsen the patient's symptoms. At clinic, we utilize a unique approach to the treatment of migraine attacks. By avoiding points in the head, neck and upper body, and instead using points exclusively in the lower body, we avoid dilating the blood vessels of the head. The entire treatment is often performed with the patient in a recumbent position rather than in a prone position. This also minimizes dilation of the blood vessels during acupuncture.


Acupuncture for Headache Prevention

Emotional stress is a well-known trigger for headache. People living in a fast-paced city like New York tend to have imbalanced autonomic nervous systems. The parasympathetic (relaxed state) branch is inhibited, and the sympathetic branch (stressed state) is activated. This type of imbalance may be tied to other health conditions such as heart disease, insomnia, hypertension and premenstrual syndrome.

The acupuncture technique helps to prevent headache by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and decreasing muscle tension. Acupuncture points for this technique are usually chosen on the forearms and lower legs.

Increased muscle tension in the neck and upper back is common in people with headache; therefore reducing this tension is an integral part of preventing headache. By finding and treating the most reactive of the 24 major diagnostic points, we can affect an instantaneous increase in blood flow to sore and tense muscles. A low-frequency electrical current (1 Hz) may be added to the needles in order to further enhance blood flow in the muscle tissue.

We also recommend some important lifestyle changes to reduce the incidence of headaches:

        • Sleep adequately (7-8 hours per day)

        • Avoid physical or mental fatigue

        • Avoid alcohol (especially red wine)

        • Avoid caffeine

        • Eliminate foods that trigger headache: dairy, chocolate, spices, wheat and corn

        • Avoid any triggers that cause your headaches







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