There are four main types of headache: tension, cluster, sinus and migraine. And, there are varying triggers for these headaches, such as food, stress, hormones, dehydration and weather. Fortunately, eliminating the triggers and finding natural ways to prevent and help an ongoing headache are possible.
Tension: Tension headaches are the most common and are the result of impinged blood flow due to muscle tightness and contraction. Tension headaches are mild to moderate and are most commonly found behind the neck, on the forehead, behind the eyes and the top of the shoulders. Causes of tension headaches are stress, fatigue, cold, poor posture, skipping meals, and dehydration.
Cluster: Cluster headaches are the most severe and commonly affect men under the age of 30. Cluster headaches are usually one-sided and are accompanied by watery eyes, a red face and affect the face where the trigeminal nerve travels. Cluster headaches last days, weeks, even months and happen the same time every day, multiple times a day. Research shows the hypothalamus is involved in these types of piercing headaches. Causes include alcohol and smoking.
Sinus: Sinus headaches are from a sinus infection and feel like painful pressure around the eyes, cheeks, forehead, teeth and may have other symptoms such as post-nasal drip, congestion with green mucus or fever. The mucus is trapped in the sinuses causing inflammation, which creates the painful pressure.
Migraine: Migraines are another severe type of headache. What differentiates a migraine from a tension headache is the accompanying symptoms such as visual disturbances and auras prior to onset, increased sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting and one-sided throbbing pain. Triggers may include hormonal changes, food sensitivity, weather, iron deficiency or thyroid issues.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the goal is to get to the root of the headache, not just treat the symptoms. There is a diagnosis and treatment plan based on a history, as well as a pulse and tongue diagnosis. Typical triggers for all types of headaches are wind, cold, heat and damp conditions either internally or externally. A wind type headache would be moving, a damp type would feel heavy, and a cold type would feel piercing and worse with cold conditions. Blood deficiency, which is a type of anemia, might also cause headaches, as the blood is not nourishing the head. Blood stagnation, which would be a severe headache, can also be a factor. After diagnosing the correct cause of the headache, a Chinese medical practitioner would apply acupuncture and offer herbs or other type of treatment to facilitate blood flow and alleviate pain. There would also be dietary advice and maybe some acupressure self-care.
Some foods have been shown to help headaches. This includes coffee, B3 (niacin, found in liver), magnesium, potassium, calcium, spicy foods, ginger and watery foods. A common herb for migraines is the magnolia flower. Others include lavender, peppermint, feverfew and basil.
Acupressure around the eyes, temples and in the web between the thumb and forefinger are helpful. Pressing the hollows of the neck with the thumbs can relieve the pressure, as well as visualizing hot energy flowing downward from the head and out the feet while making a “whooooooo” sound (breathlessly, as if blowing on a candle).
Reducing stress is a key factor; do deep breathing exercises and take a walk where there is greenery. It is best to see a health care practitioner and not to self-diagnose or take herbs without consultation. A headache could indicate something serious.
Research Update – Acupuncture and Pain
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined how acupuncture can be used to treat low back pain. The researchers looked at multiple trials to determine that acupuncture shows great promise in relieving chronic low back pain. The trials were inconclusive about acupuncture for acute low back pain. Since chronic low back pain is more common, it makes sense the majority of the trials scrutinized found more evidence to support acupuncture usage for this condition.
Pain affects everybody at some point in their lives. It may be either acute or chronic. But regardless of the type of pain, it can be debilitating. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 100 million Americans have suffered from pain that lasts more than 24 hours and millions more suffer from acute pain. Chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability in the United States also, which ultimately affects not only the pain sufferer, but also those around him or her.
Many people go to see their regular doctor when they have pain. Many more go to the emergency room. But the treatments received don’t always provide relief. Everything from pain pills to surgery may be suggested to help pain sufferers. And because of over-prescription of pain medications, there is now an epidemic in the United States. Opioids, one class of prescription painkillers, has turned into a legitimate killer, causing more and more people to overdose and die. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is estimated that nearly 2.1 million people in the U.S. are suffering from substance abuse disorders directly related to opioid pain relievers.
This is where acupuncture comes in. Acupuncture is part of a nearly 3,000 year old medical system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate specific pressure points on the body. By invigorating these points, the brain is triggered to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers. The energy within the body is also moved and adjusted. According to TCM medical theory, when the energy is blocked or weak, then pain and illness can attack the body.
One of the advantages of utilizing acupuncture to treat pain is the acupuncturist doesn’t need to diagnose the cause of the pain before treating it. Since acupuncture has no real adverse side effects when performed by a qualified and professionally licensed practitioner, pain relief can begin the very first time a patient is treated.
The treatments are very customizable because this medicine is not a “one size fits all” type of solution. This means that as the pain shifts and changes, the patient will receive customized treatments that not only address the pain and inflammation, but they also work on resolving the root of the problem. Most patients who are dealing with pain also have added stress, insomnia and depression or anxiety. Acupuncture is great at treating all of these conditions. So the patient gets more than just pain relief.
Acupuncture is so effective at treating and relieving pain now showing up in hospitals and emergency rooms. In fact, Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota is now successfully using acupuncture in its emergency room to treat conditions ranging from car accident injuries to kidney stones. Their initial results show pain scores are just as low with acupuncture as they are with those given analgesic painkillers. Another positive action regarding the utilization of acupuncture came just recently. The Food and Drug Administration released proposed changes that plan to educate health care providers about treating pain. The new guidelines recommend doctors get information about acupuncture and suggest it to their patients before prescribing opioids.
With these kinds of recommendations and testimonials, it is hard to believe only about 10 percent of Americans have ever tried acupuncture. But that statistic is slowly changing as more and more people are seeking natural and alternative methods of dealing with pain and disease. Why not check it out for yourself? Contact me to find out more information.