Acupuncture: Your Secret Weapon Against Chronic Headaches

Chronic Headaches

One in six Americans suffer from chronic headaches.  Approximately 45 million people, 20 million of whom are women. Scientific research shows that acupuncture can be more effective than medication in reducing the severity and frequency of chronic headaches. The pain that headache and migraine sufferers endure can impact every aspect of their lives. 

Acupuncture Reduces Migraine and Headache Pain

Acupuncture can offer powerful relief without the side effects that prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause. Your acupuncturist will teach you about diet, ergonomics, sleep positions, stretching and exercises to empower you to do everything that you can to prevent headaches

Headaches and migraines, as well as their underlying causes have been treated successfully with acupuncture and Oriental medicine for thousands of years.  Oriental Medicine does not recognize migraines and chronic headaches as one particular syndrome, they are multifaceted. We view the body as a whole and evaluate each individual to determine their specific imbalances and what is affecting the circulation in the head.  It can be due to physical, emotional, or dietary causes. Steps to determine factors contributing to headaches:

  • Check the blood pressure.
  • Assess and treat tension in the head, jaw clenching, neck and shoulder tension constricting nerve and blood flow to the head.
  • Discuss and advise on sleep positions, work posture, general posture to relieve the tension contributing to or causing headaches.
  • Evaluate and treat internal causes / contributing factors such as hydration, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, hormones, lack of rest / sleep, over work, getting over heated, and stress.

The area of the head affected indicates different conditions and may be contributing factors:

  • Imbalance in the Liver and Gall Bladder cause temporal headaches 
  • Stomach and digestive imbalance cause forehead headaches
  • Colds and flu affect the base of the neck and occiput
  • Clenching and grinding the teeth increases the incidence of all headaches
  • Tension in the neck and shoulders, including whiplash and other neck injuries
  • Deficiency headaches tend to be behind the right eye
  • Excessive headaches tend to be behind the left eye
  • A headache that is severe and accompanied by dizziness or blurred vision requires immediate physician evaluation 

The overall goal is to restore imbalances found in the body.   

Self-Care for Headache Relief

Using an ice pack to the base of the neck and forehead can bring relief.  Apply essential oils to headache points that have blends of peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, wintergreen, and cinnamon.

Sit or lie comfortably, take deep breaths with your eyes closed.  Set your intention to release tension and relax tight muscles in the body.

Performing acupressure while relaxed ensures optimal results. Find sore points anywhere on your head and massage and acupressure them. Common areas are along the hairline in the front, temples, top of the head and the base of the occiput.  If the area around the eyes and jaws are sore and tight, work there.

Alleviate Forehead Headaches

One of the most important points for any kind of headache, but especially in the area of the forehead, is called Large Intestine 4 (LI4). Squeeze LI4 between your thumb and your middle finger, applying deep pressure for 5 to 10 seconds, then releasing the pressure for 3 to 5 seconds. This can be done for 2 to 3 minutes. In severe cases, this point may stay pressed with heavy pressure until the pain reduces.

Relief for Headaches on the Side of The Head

Headaches on one or both sides of the head, which can include the temples, can be relieved by  applying pressure at a point called Stomach 8 (ST8). It is found about a centimeter into the hairline, above the outer corner of the eyebrow.

Using a firm touch from your middle finger in the center of the forehead and thumbs at ST8 simultaneously press and hold for 10 seconds.   Make little circular motions pressing along the sore points for relief.

Relieve Pain and Tension in the Back of Your Head

To find sore points along the base of the skull at the back of the head.  The medical term for this part of the cranium is the occipital bone.

Cradle the back of your head in both hands and use your thumbs to firmly rub back and forth right below your occipital bones using acupressure and massage until the points are less painful. Create some heat with a vigorous rub, then use your thumb pads to press into the area.

There’s no reason to wait until you have a headache to give yourself self-care.  Practicing these things daily may help prevent headaches or may lessen the severity of pain if one does occur.

To add a little zing to your massage, charge up your hands by rubbing them together quickly until you generate extra heat and energy to work with.

Acupuncture Reduces Frequency of Migraines

To understand the long term results of acupuncture treatments for migraine headaches, researchers organized a randomized, clinical trial.

The results of this trial appeared in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal in 2017, under the title of “The long term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis.”

The study included 249 patients, aged 18-65 years old, who complained of migraine headaches without aura.

Aura is a medical term describing the unpleasant experience which may accompany a migraine or a seizure. It is a disturbing change in vision, smell or thoughts, which precedes the onset of the event.

Each participant received 4 weeks of acupuncture treatments coupled with 20 more weeks of follow-up visits.
The patients were arbitrarily divided into three groups–the true acupuncture group, the sham acupuncture group and a control group. The control group patients received no treatment.

To track the effects of the treatments, patients monitored their symptoms daily and recorded them in a personal diary.

Researchers tracked the frequency of headaches, how long they lasted, the severity of, and any additional medications ingested by the patients.

At the end of the trial researchers concluded that the acupuncture treatments significantly reduced the frequency of migraines.

Source: Zhao L, Chen J, Li Y, Sun X, Chang X, Zheng H, Gong B, Huang Y, Yang M, Wu X, Li X, Liang F. The Long-term Effect of Acupuncture for Migraine Prophylaxis “A Randomized Clinical Trial”. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(4):508-515. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9378

Studies Show Headaches Reduced

For years, studies around the globe have demonstrated acupuncture is an effective treatment for migraines and headaches.

In a case study, published in the June 2003 Issue of Medical Acupuncture, doctors found that acupuncture resulted in the resolution or reduction in the frequency and severity of cluster headaches, and a decrease or discontinuation of pain medications. It was concluded that acupuncture can be used to provide sustained relief.

According to the July 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal, a randomized controlled trial in Germany found that acupuncture cut tension headache rates almost in half. Those receiving acupuncture reported headache rates of nearly half that of those who received no treatments, suffering 7 fewer days of headaches. The improvements continued for months after the treatments were concluded, rising slightly as time went on.

An updated review of Cochrane findings from 2001 found that: “Eleven trials with 2317 participants (median 62, range 10 to 1265) met the inclusion criteria. Two large trials compared acupuncture to treatment of acute headaches or routine care only. Both found statistically significant and clinically relevant short-term (up to 3 months) benefits of acupuncture over control for response, number of headache days and pain intensity. Long-term effects (beyond 3 months) were not investigated. Six trials compared acupuncture with a sham acupuncture intervention, and five of the six provided data for meta-analyses. Small but statistically significant benefits of acupuncture over sham were found for response as well as for several other outcomes. Three of the four trials comparing acupuncture with physiotherapy, massage or relaxation had important methodological or reporting shortcomings. Their findings are difficult to interpret, but collectively suggest slightly better results for some outcomes in the control groups.”

“Authors’ conclusions: In the previous version of this review, evidence in support of acupuncture for tension-type headache was considered insufficient. Now, with six additional trials, the authors conclude that acupuncture could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jan 21; (1): CD007587. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099266/

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Distress or Chronic Stress

Distress or chronic stress is uncontrollable, prolonged, or overwhelming stress. Once stress becomes distress, the body manages to survive though not always to thrive. For example, when faced with periods of chronic stress, the body’s immune system function is lowered, and the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems no longer function the way they should. In a state of distress, the cells of the immune system (and other body systems) are unable to respond normally and produce levels of inflammation which increase the risk of further health issues.

Homeostasis

Homeostasis refers to your body’s ability to regulate itself and maintain a comparatively stable internal environment despite external and internal conditions and events.

Your body is designed to be in a state of homeostasis, where all the systems within are functioning optimally.

Stressor

Stressor is anything that is perceived by the body as challenging, threatening or demanding.

Health Story

In the context of My Wellbeing Compass, your “Health Story” represents the combination of your dis-eases, conditions, symptoms and the history that binds them together. It is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Unearthing and resolving the root causes at the core of your Health Story is the only way to truly rewrite this Story.

Natural Self-repair Mechanisms

The body is made up of intelligent, living cells that are dynamically connected. They communicate and just know what to do and when to do it in any given situation. They grow, replicate, repair, and age. Every 90 days, the body has a new bloodstream; every year, it manufactures billions of new cells; colon cells refresh every 4 days; the skin is entirely regenerated every 2-3 weeks; white blood cells regenerate in about 1 year; the liver renews itself at least once every 2 years; and the skeleton replaces its cells entirely every 10 years.

You are an incredibly complex, interactive, and dynamic living organism that is well-equipped with self-repair mechanisms that can fight infections, eliminate toxins, fix damaged DNA, destroy cancer cells, and even slow down aging.

This natural self-healing ability (also referred to as cellular intelligence or body’s innate intelligence) explains spontaneous remissions from seemingly “incurable” diseases.

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