Can Acupuncture help headaches?
Relieving Headaches with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Both western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine 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 tumors. Acupuncture is used to effectively treat primary headaches, namely tension and migraine, which are the most common.
There are a variety of different types of headaches, both primary and secondary. These include the following:
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.
Migraine 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.
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.
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
The Autonomic Nervous System and Headaches
The functioning of all of our internal organs is regulated by an involuntary nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has two primary divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for activating the "fight or flight" response characteristically engaged in stressful situations. The parasympathetic system opposes this response by activating the restful state and causing the relaxation response. Prolonged periods of stress can induce a chronic state of hyper-sympathetic activity and/or suppressed parasympathetic response results as the body gradually shifts to an increased sympathetic response. Such a state can lead to neck and upper back rigidity and stiffness, heaviness behind the eyes, and tension headaches, as well as anxiety, irritability, and digestive problems such as bloating and constipation.