Headaches are a very common health ailment with a wide variety of causes and manifestations. Up to 90% of adults have experienced a tension-type headache. The 2009 National Health Interview Survey found that 21% of adult females and 10% of adult males experience migraine or severe headaches.
Common types of headaches include tension headaches, migraines, menstrual headaches, sinus headaches, and rebound headaches (from overuse of painkillers for headaches).
The good news is, acupuncture can be a very helpful treatment for all of these kinds of headaches – both in the moment and preventatively. A 2009 systematic review of the research on acupuncture for tension headaches concluded that “acupuncture could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches.”
A similar Cochrane review in 2009 found that “there is consistent evidence that acupuncture provides additional benefit to treatment of acute migraine attacks only or to routine care…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.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine has its own way of understanding headaches. Headaches can be caused by a weakness of the qi or blood energy of the body – these headaches are often diffuse and dull and happen when you are hungry or tired or not getting enough sleep. Headaches can also be caused by qi not moving properly in the body – these headaches often occur at the temples and are brought on by stress or fatigue or overwork. Other causes of headaches can be a weakness of the yin or yang energy in our body – in this type of headache, the pain is often deep inside the head. Dampness – an abnormal accumulation of fluids – can also cause headaches. These headaches tend to feel heavy, like there is a wet towel wrapped around the head. Sometimes headaches are very localized and have a sharp or stabbing pain – these point to the blood energy being stuck and not moving properly.
All these differentiations give us acupuncturists information about which energy systems are likely out of balance and causing your headache. We look at the quality of your headache pain, when the headaches occur, and what makes them better or worse. We can then tailor treatment to your individual experience of the headaches to relieve pain in the moment and prevent future headaches down the road.
Acupuncture operates on the same principles when it comes to migraine treatments. Due to the severity of the condition, a course of treatment for migraines is usually longer than for chronic tension, menstrual, or sinus headaches. However, the acupuncture can still be a wonderful primary or adjunctive therapy to diminish the frequency and intensity of migraines over time.
So if you or someone you know suffers from any kind of headache, give acupuncture a try. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!