The Low Down on Headaches

One of the most common questions I get about acupuncture is what it can treat, and one of the most common conditions I am asked about is headaches. Before answering, I need to find out what’s going on, because it’s important to know what kind of a headaches they’re having. There are several kinds to choose from, and it makes a difference in their treatment. Here is a brief rundown on the different kinds of headaches that you may experience:

-Tension headaches are just what they sound like. They’re caused by stress and worry that tend to tighten up your shoulder and neck muscles, which inhibits circulation in the blood vessels in your head. Tension headaches can be chronic, the pain tends to be dull and achy, and may affect your entire head.

-Cluster headaches can be nasty. The pain often occurs near your eye and is usually one-sided. You may have nasal congestion, tearing, flushing, sweating, and a red face with this kind of headache. The pain associated with a cluster headache is severe, often described as burning or stabbing. This kind of headache can be short-lived, but sadly, you can have more than one of these beasts in a day. Cluster headaches are more common during the seasonal changes of spring and fall, and tend to be more common in men than women.

-Migraines are the king of headaches. The pain is severe, throbbing, can last for several days, and can cause sufferers to end up in the emergency room begging for relief. Migraines frequently are one-sided, and sufferers can frequently pinpoint the exact spot where their headaches begin. Migraines tend to occur in stages, beginning with feeling out of sorts or irritable, followed by vision or other sensory stages (aura), then the actual Help for your headachesheadache, and ending with the feeling of a shadow headache, or feeling completely depleted. Many migraine sufferers can identify triggers that set off their headaches, such as scents, foods, dehydration, low blood sugar, stress, and even the resolution of stress. Interestingly a large percentage of people report suffering from migraines on the weekends—a time when the stress of the week has lifted. Sometimes a combination of factors may set off your migraine, which makes it more difficult to pinpoint the exact trigger.

-Sinus or allergy headaches are caused by the buildup of pressure in your sinuses. The can be caused by a sinus infection, chronic sinusitis, allergies, or a structural problem that makes it difficult for your sinuses to drain. The pain from this kind of headache is felt in your face—your forehead, behind your cheeks, or even in your teeth—depending on which sinuses are affected. Sinus headaches can be acute or chronic, depending on the underlying cause.

-Hormonal headaches are caused by fluctuations in your hormones, and may occur with your menstrual cycle, during perimenopause, menopause, and during pregnancy. Interestingly, for some women, the hormonal changes associated with becoming pregnant relieves their headaches. The pain with a hormone-related headache can be intense, and for some women the fluctuation in hormones can trigger a migraine. For most women who suffer from hormonal headaches, their symptoms are relieved after menopause.

-A Caffeine headache occurs when you drink a lot of coffee and decide to quit cold turkey. The ensuing headache you experience is known as a caffeine headache, and is fairly common. This occurs because caffeine affects the constriction and dilation of your blood vessels, and the sudden change of quitting coffee can trigger a headache. In addition, it’s possible to get a caffeine headache simply from drinking too much coffee in general.

-An Exertional headache is a headache occurs after you’ve had a hard workout, and is caused by an increase of blood flowing to your head. The pain from this kind of headache can become very intense very quickly, and may be related to migraines. While an exertional headache is generally benign, if you experience them, you should get checked out by your doctor.

-Hypertensive headaches are headaches caused by high blood pressure. They occur because the force of the blood flowing in your arteries is elevated. Needless to say, if you suffer from blood pressure that is high enough to give you a headache, you should be working with your health provider get it under control.

-A Post-traumatic headache is one that occurs after a head injury or concussion. The pain of this kind of headache can vary, but may feel like a tension headache or a full-blown migraine. These headaches may last on and off for six to twelve months after the initial injury, and should slowly abate during the healing process.

-Rebound headaches may occur when you quit a medication that you have been using to control your headaches. Any headache medication that you take more than a couple of days a week is a candidate for giving you a rebound headache when you quit taking it. It’s frustrating to have your headaches return as the result of your medication, but the headaches should stop after a few days off the medication. It’s important to note that if you’re taking a pain medication for another reason, such as arthritis, stopping it won’t give you a rebound headache unless you suffer from headaches in the first place.

So what does acupuncture and Chinese medicine have to offer if you suffer from any of these types of headaches? Your practitioner can create an effective treatment strategy in many cases, based on the underlying cause of your headaches. They will ask you whether your headaches are episodic or chronic, where the pain is occurring, the nature of the pain, other symptoms associated with your headaches, and about your overall health. From that information they can make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that will likely include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, lifestyle changes, stress relief, and diet modifications. In many cases, treatment with Chinese medicine can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of your headaches. Your noggin will thank you!

Comments are closed.