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Headaches - a Chinese medicine approach

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Tracey-Ann Brown

headache is pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point to another or have a vice-like quality. A headache may be a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches may appear gradually or suddenly, may last less than an hour or for several days, and can be very debilitating for some.

Primary headache

These are headaches which are not the symptom of an underlying disease. Some of the more common primary headaches are:

Cluster headaches: Bouts of frequent attacks, known as cluster periods which may last from weeks to months, usually followed by a remission period when the headache attacks stop completely.

Migraines: A migraine headache can cause intense throbbing or pulsing in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and be so severe that all you can think about is finding a dark, quiet place to lie down.

Tension headaches: A tension headache is generally a diffuse, mild to moderate pain that is often described as feeling as though there is a tight band around your head. This is the most common type of headache.

Headache triggers

Headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine.
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates.
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep.
  • Poor posture.
  • Skipped meals.
  • Stress.

Acupuncture intervention

Acupuncture has been used with great success in the management and treatment of a number of different types of headaches. It helps to both reduce the frequency and intensity of the headache, and in some cases, patients have gone years without the occurrence of a headache of any significance. Acupuncture points are selected from the more than 1,000 points on the ear and body. The points are stimulated by the insertion of very thin needles which aim to regulate or smooth the flow of qi in the upper jiao (head).

Treatment will vary depending on the type of headache and its accompanying symptoms. So, for example, in the case of a migraine, where there is nausea and vomiting, acupuncture points would be included which support the digestive qi. On the other hand, in cases where headaches are accompanied by intense feelings of heat, sweating and insomnia, acupuncture points are selected which clear the heat and calm the spirit. Points commonly stimulated include those on the head, hands and feet.

Additional techniques

Other techniques can prove helpful, such as:

1. Relaxation techniques: tai chi, yoga, meditation.

2. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, but don't oversleep.

3. Avoid caffeine.

4. Avoid food triggers (this will vary from person to person, but some common triggers include: MSG, chocolate, foods high in preservatives, sugar substitutes).

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: