Headaches and migraines are a very common condition these days. This might be due to the stressful and hectic ways of modern life but may also be related to bad diet, hormone imbalance or bad blood circulation. The separation between migraines and headaches is a bit artificial. Migraine is really another one type out of a few types of headache. From now on I will therefore refer to both migraines and headaches as headaches.
Headaches can come in different shapes and forms. The location of the pain can be different (forehead, temples, back of head etc); the type of pain (sharp pain, dull ache, throbbing etc); the frequency, the timing, the triggers, the aggravating factors, the soothing factors, the symptoms that come with the headaches (blurred vision, nausea etc)-all will be different in the different types of headaches. Of course, as we mentioned earlier, Chinese medicine recognises the fact that people’s constitution is different as well and therefore the different types of headaches will manifest themselves differently in different people.
This huge variation in types of headaches, however, is not a headache for the Chinese medicine practitioner. On the contrary, understanding the individual manifestation and cause of the headache in each case just helps us to focus the treatment and to achieve better and faster results. The idea of treating every case of chronic headaches with just painkillers is very limited *. Treating with painkillers can sometimes help to relieve the symptoms but it never treats the cause of the problem. Treatment of headaches with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs however aims at the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms. The results are almost always very good and long-lasting. When significant improvement has been achieved the treatment can be reduced and then discontinued without the symptoms returning. Doctors have a wide variety of medicines to treat headaches, and they have interesting names and ways in which they work, but they all have the same problems (in addition to possible side effects) in that none of them treat the cause of the headaches and therefore the symptoms will return soon after discontinuing the medication!
Chinese medicine has a very good understanding of headaches. Without getting into too many technical details I’ll discuss one common type of headache in order to demonstrate this point. The most common type of chronic headache originates from the liver. When we are stressed or emotional our liver is under pressure. When this stress and emotional pressure becomes too much our liver tends to heat up. The liver can become chronically overheated and this heat tends to go upwards to the head creating unruly energy (termed by the Chinese as wind) that enters the head and causes headaches. This type of headache will typically be throbbing, often located around or behind the eye or to the side of the head. Often it will be accompanied by sensitivity to light or visual disturbances. In women, problems with the liver will also affect the balance of hormones and, in these cases, the headache tends to be worse before their period. The treatment of this type of headache with Chinese medicine is by using Acupuncture points and herbs to reduce the heat in the liver and thus ease the headache; we will also soothe the liver and treat the stress. The results are excellent and, on top of an improvement in the headache, the patient will feel more relaxed, happy and energetic.