Headaches, in one form or another, are very commonly treated with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The main headaches seen in practice are migraine, tension, cluster or sinus headaches, although there are other types that vary in definition via conventional modern medicine. Through TCM diagnosis, headaches are generally classified as excess or deficient in nature (as is every imbalance or illness). Your headache can be classified further in a number of ways, and can be affected by a number of different factors including your emotions, e.g. anger, worry, or even fear. It is commonly known in TCM as well that you can experience headaches from overwork, a poor diet, external pathogenic factors (e.g. cold or flu virus) and even through excessive sexual activity.
TCM will also differentiate your headaches according to what part of your head is affected. For example, headaches on the top of your head correspond to an excess in your Liver organ system ('Liver' is capitalized to differentiate from the scientific definition of your 'liver'), whereas headaches on the back of your head are usually due to a Kidney deficiency. The type of pain that you experience with a headache has significance as well. Your acupuncturist/TCM practitioner will ask you about the nature of the pain in terms of whether or not it is dull and aching, heavy, stiff, stabbing and sharp, empty, or even a pulling type of pain.
In the TCM Theory of Five Elements (one of the theories that helps to make up Chinese Medicine), it is stated that everything that exists in the universe also exists within you. Thus your health can be affected by nature, and that nature itself can, and often does, exist within you. For example, you may have headaches caused by external pathogens such as Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat or Wind-Dampness. You may also experience headaches from internal factors, such as Liver-Fire, Liver-Wind, Dampness, Phlegm, and others. Deficient patterns leading to headaches tend to be diagnosed as Qi (energy) deficiency, Blood deficiency, or Kidney deficiency.
The accompanying signs and symptoms you will exhibit that help your practitioner diagnose you will depend on the precipitating factor for your headaches. For example, if your headaches are caused by Wind-Dampness (which may in fact be otherwise diagnosed as a common cold or flu), you will notice that they started in damp weather, and that the pain is heavy in nature, that you have trouble concentrating and probably also that you have a runny nose. However, if your headaches are caused by Liver-Fire, you may experience dizziness, irritability, insomnia, or other symptoms normally associated with this pattern.
The most difficult types of headaches to cure are those associated with Dampness or Phlegm, as these factors tend to be very stubborn in nature. In addition, the longer you have had headaches, the longer it will oftentimes take to cure you of them. Nonetheless, the proper choice of acupuncture points, as well as some other TCM techniques, e.g. Tui Na (Chinese massage), cupping therapy, and/or herbal prescription will help get you on your way to feeling much better. Also, you will likely be advised to make some lifestyle changes, including eating a healthier diet, getting enough rest, and whatever other changes that might affect your particular pattern.
For more information, and to obtain your own free TCM diagnosis, contact us.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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