Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Treating Headaches with Chinese Medicine

By Joshua Herr, L.Ac.

Headaches affect many Americans. The frequency can vary from daily, weekly or monthly. The intensity varies from a mild nagging headache that interferes with normal tasks to debilitating headaches that can leave an individual bedridden. Medications can sometimes resolve a headache, but don't eliminate the root cause.

A practitioner of Oriental medicine is not only concerned with alleviating the headaches when they occur, but also understanding the root cause of the headaches. Correcting the cause of the headaches can eliminate their occurrence.

Chinese medicine understands the symptom of a headache to be one part of a myriad of symptoms that creates a pattern of disharmony that is present in the patient. Whether the headache is located in the back, top, side or front of the head all point to different clinical significance.

Identifying the headache location is a beginning step in making a differential diagnosis. After collecting further information about the headaches, like medical history, diet and lifestyle, the practitioner determines a diagnosis.

Common syndromes that lead to headaches are Liver Yang Rising, Liver and Kidney Yin Deficiency, Liver Blood Deficiency, Stomach Heat, Qi and Blood Stagnation as well as others. Diagnosing the clinical syndrome enables the practitioner to create an acupuncture and herbal medicine plan that best fits the individual.

At the 56th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ, 2004;328:744-747) on the use of acupuncture for headaches was highlighted. The study had 401 participants with predominately migraine-type headaches, who received 12 acupuncture treatments over 3 months. At 12 months, headaches were less in the acupuncture group, patients used less medication and made fewer visits to their primary care physicians.

The above study illustrates the usefulness of acupuncture as a therapy for the clinical management of headaches. Often patients experience an immediate elimination or reduction of headaches with acupuncture therapy. The use of food diaries is another useful tool that can help to identify dietary factors that can be contributing to the occurrence of headaches. Wheat, dairy and sugar are common ingredients in an American diet that contribute to an internal imbalance that gives rise to headaches.

Herbal therapy remedies can also correct the internal imbalance that contributes to the reoccurrence of headaches, as well as treating acute episodes of headache. For mild headaches, placing White Flower Oil on the temples can resolve the pain. White Flower Oil is a Chinese medicine liniment that is great to have in the medicine cabinet. As well as treating headaches, it can also be used topically for sinus congestion, arthritic pain, sprains, strains, and bug bites. Use caution when applying White Flower near the eyes, because it can irritate them if placed too close.

If you experience mild, infrequent headaches, explore how dietary factors may be contributing to their occurrence. Try White Flower oil and/or the acupressure described in our Fall 2009 Newsletter. If the problem is more severe, Chinese medicine offers many natural therapeutic resources for you to consider.