Headache & Migraine
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Both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognize two categories of headaches: primary and secondary. A primary headache is a clinical condition, not a symptom of another disorder. 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 tumours. Acupuncture is used to effectively treat primary headaches, namely tension and migraine, which are the most common, as well as Secondary Headaches.
Types of Headaches
There are a variety of different types of headaches, both primary and secondary. These include the following:
1. Tension Headaches, which occasionally affect most people, are the most common type of headache. They are recurrent headaches, and can last anywhere from minutes to days. These headaches are experienced as a dull pressure, mild or moderate in severity.
2. Migraines 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.
3. Chronic Headache: Headaches occurring every day or 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.
4. Dangerous Headaches: Some headaches may be signs of a serious medical condition. These include headaches after trauma, headaches in the elderly, or headaches with any of the following symptoms:
- Vomiting without nausea
- Severe dizziness
- Extreme neck pain
- Sudden onset
TCM Point of View
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 & Moxibustion, and Herbal Medicine: 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 migraines. 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.
Treat the lower for upper disease, treat the upper for lower disease. – Lingshu Jing, Acupuncture Bible
Masterful acupuncturists or TCM doctors 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.
Emotional stress is a well-known trigger for migraines. People in modern societies 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. In order to prevent migraines, one can also practice the following:
- Sleeping well: Patients who often get headaches tend to have more sleep disturbance.
- Eating well: Less alcohol or caffeine, and avoid GMO food.
- Staying away from anything that could give you stress.
- Meditation & Yoga