Headache and Chinese Medicine

Headache is one of the most common symptoms encountered in clinical practice. There are few people who have never experienced a headache at some time or other in their lives, yet all headaches are not the same. It is important to remember that treatment in Chinese medicine is concerned with the pattern of a disease rather than a standard treatment for the disease itself. Therefore, headaches can be due to numerous factors and how to treat a headache will differ accordingly.

The location of a headache is important. Is it on the top of the head, on the sides, one-sided, in the eyes, in the back, or frontal? The type of pain will also influence acupuncture point selection. Is it a feeling of heaviness, distending (throbbing, bursting, pulsating), a pulling sensation, stabbing or boring as in a “splitting headache,” dull, sharp a feeling of emptiness, does it create nausea or vomiting? There may be emotions behind the onset of headache; anger, worry, fear or shock. Other factors such as excessive thinking, too much mental stimulation, overwork, excessive physical activity, diet, accidents or dehydration. Is it secondary to another disease or illness or has one been exposed to other external pathogenic factors such as wind, cold, heat or dampness? Other considerations include time of day, while active or at rest, weather, emotions, food, posture, injury and menstruation.

MIGRAINE IS A TYPE OF HEADACHE BUT NOT ALL HEADACHES ARE MIGRAINES. A tension headache will usually originate on the forehead and spread down the nape of the neck and shoulders; a sinus headache will often be accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose and a mild fever. A migraine attack is usually centered on one side of the head. Migraine pain usually starts as a dull throb or tightening and then intensifies into concentrated and severe pain. There is believed to be a hereditary component in the development of migraines. Migraines are vascular headaches that are sensitive to light and noise and physical work makes them worse. Occasionally there is only an aura around objects and no pain at all. Most migraine sufferers will report nausea or loss of appetite during attacks. Sometimes there are obvious food triggers. At times they may also suffer from extreme warmth or chills. Migraines are treated by preventative and abortive medications for the most part.

Headaches are treated on a symptomatic basis and if chronic, more comprehensive treatment is required. All types of headache respond to acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapies. Migraines can be stubborn and often require a combination of eastern and western medicine efforts to achieve the best results. Treating the symptoms of headaches can create relief but for a chronic, long-term headache the underlying causes must be addressed in order to create a more permanent solution.

Anita Alexandra, L.Ac., CH is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist with 17+ years of experience. She practices at Chiropractic Health and Acupuncture, 619 Main Street, Frisco. (970)668-3299.

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