In Chinese Medicine there are many different types of headaches. During your initial consultation, I would begin by asking you about location of your headache (front, side, back, behind the eyes, etc) and then the quality of the pain (dull ache, sharp pain, and how the pain develops and progresses, does it start dull and gradually get stronger. I might also ask if there any other features associated with it, such as visual disturbances, or if you’re a woman, whether it’s linked to a certain part of your menstrual cycle.
All the above information plus details of your general health will help me begin to build a picture of what where the imbalance in your energy lies.
In Chinese Medicine what causes a migraine?
For example if your symptoms are so severe that they’d usually be called a migraine (such as visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, intense pain on the temples or behind the eyes, through the whole head) then this type of headache the symptoms would usually be caused by excessive liver energy rising up into your head.
In the texts on Chinese Medicine, you’ll find this referred to as the syndrome of “Liver Yang Rising”. But keeping things simple, I would translate all the concepts as follows:
A tiny amount of electrical energy is an essential element for all life, and to transport this energy around our body, there is a network of “channels” (recent research papers have started referring to them as “Bhongan ducts”, named after the Korean scientist who first scientifically identified them back in the 1960’s). These are the acupuncture “meridians” that were first mapped by Chinese acupuncturists over 2,000 years ago.
This “excess liver energy” can be regarded as an excess build up of this electrical charge that forms in your liver (due to stress and other factors), and when this gets to a certain level, the liver will expel it, in one way or another. One way that this happens is for the charge to surge up the liver and gallbladder meridians, which rise up into your head. The gallbladder meridians zigzag over both sides of your head, and the liver meridian rises to the top of your head and also opens into the eyes. (The liver ordinarily has a big influence over the health of your eyes, which is why visual disturbances, and pains behind the eyes, are often a feature of migraines.)
This excess liver energy having surged up into your head is what has caused the pain and other symptoms of your migraine attack, or other “liver-type” headache. Hence, this is the mechanism that causes a migraine attack. This would often be brought on by stress; or such a headache, with some people, can simply be brought on by climatic conditions, such as a very windy day; and with some women, this syndrome can sometimes be caused because of your liver “energy” becoming blocked due to your menstrual cycle (blocked liver energy is usually also what causes period cramps, and pms symptoms).
However, even though the liver is responsible for producing the immediate symptoms, the ultimate underlying cause may well lie elsewhere (that is, whatever caused the liver energy to build up in this way in the first place).
For example, some people with this pattern of headache will have “deficient kidney energy”, and this may even have been present from early childhood. If this is the case, I would expect such patients to have suffered either hay fever or asthma as a child, and perhaps to still be suffering such things in adulthood. This is a picture of one scenario that can be behind migraines, since this “deficient kidney energy” can, in some people, be what causes their “liver energy” to build up the excess that then leads to the migraine attack.
In this case, my treatment would involve me strengthening your “kidney energy” (which basically means “kidney function”), and smoothing the flow of your “liver energy” (which would tend to have a de-stressing and calming effect on you in general), and offering advice on lifestyle factors that can also help in both these areas.
Alleviating the immediate symptoms
As regards alleviating the immediate symptoms, there are several acupuncture points on the gallbladder channels (or “meridians”) that are very effective at drawing this excess energy down from your head.
(The gallbladder channel, after zig-zagging over both sides of the head, then travels down your neck and outwards across your shoulders, which is why tension in your neck and shoulders is also often associated with this type of headache.)
Often, with many types of headache, the patient will begin to feel relief from the headache during the acupuncture session; sometimes the headache may clear completely, and at other times it may begin to ease, and then fade gradually after the session.
Other types of headache that can be treated with acupuncture for headaches
Of course, there are many other types of headache, and a range of possible causes with each. But my approach in making my initial diagnosis would be very similar to the above.
Chinese acupuncture is usually very effective in treating migraines and other headaches, and the benefits are usually noticed within the first few treatments.
How many acupuncture for headaches treatments are needed?
As to how often acupuncture for headaches treatment might be needed, this very much depends on each patient. After the initial course of treatments, some would need very little further treatment to remain symptom free (or thereabouts), but if you have a particularly stressful life, and find it hard to (or don’t wish to) make any changes in your lifestyle, you may find that regular maintenance treatments were the only way to keep your health at a reasonable standard, which then, in turn, would greatly reduce your headaches and other symptoms. And as to the length between regular maintenance treatments, that varies with each person, depending on the level of your general health and just how stressful your life is. With some people, treatments might only be once a month, or less; while with others, who perhaps are having to endure particularly challenging circumstances in their life, the maintenance treatments may need to be as often as every two weeks.