23 May 2022

OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: Treating headaches with acupuncture

OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: Treating headaches with acupuncture

Migraine is defined as a complex constellation of symptoms effecting the nervous system, gastrointestinal tract and vascular systems.

The highly debilitating nature of recurrent migraine attacks and the limited effectiveness of medications, all of which give rise to unpleasant side effects, bring many patients to acupuncture for treatment.

A recent article reported that Migraine is the 6th most common condition presenting to acupuncturists.

In a study of student doctors in Norway, 63% said they would refer patients with migraine for acupuncture. Thus both public and professionals are becoming aware of the benefits of this form of treatment.

Western Medical Diagnosis

Migraine is the most frequent cause of recurrent headaches. It consists in an initial constriction of the head arteries followed by vasodilatation and distension of the vessels which causes a throbbing pain.

The main symptoms are a severe and throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, aversion to bright lights (photophobia), nausea and possibly vomiting.

The attacks usually follow stress, eating cheese, chocolate, drinking red wine and using the contraceptive pill.

Chinese Medical Diagnosis

In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are different types of headache, external wind-cold or wind-heat both cause headaches but are not classified as migraine.

In Chinese medicine headaches are rarely given one name or label to describe a type of headache, the word migraine as we know it does not exist in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In Western medicine a disease is conveniently given a label or name and all people presenting with a persisting headache which is considered by the doctor not to be life threatening are usually diagnosed as having migraine.

In Chinese medicine people presenting with so called migraine symptoms would be categorised under four or more patterns of disharmony.

We will discuss the two main patterns for migraine in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Liver Yang Rising: This is probably the most common of all interior headaches. It arises when the Yang or positive energy of the liver rises upward creating an excess of energy in the head.

It is natural for the liver energy to flow freely but in diseased circumstances this movement can become excessive and give rise to headaches.

The most frequent cause of this type of headache is emotional. Emotions of anger (whether it is manifested or repressed), frustration or resentment over a long period of time can cause the excessive rising of Liver-Yang.

The liver is connected to the emotion of anger, a good example of this would be when someone consumes too much alcohol they get angry and lash out, simply because alcohol irritates the liver triggering the emotion of anger.

The liver yang rising type of migraine headache is often seen in high blood pressure sufferers. The syndrome of liver-yang rising can be caused by (a) liver-blood deficiency (b) liver-yin deficiency (c) liver/kidney-yin and kidney-yang deficiency and would have to be further diagnosed and sub divided into a,b,c, to find the root cause of why the liver energy is rising.

Once this is established only then can a proper treatment plan and prescription of acupuncture points and herbs be chosen.

In Chinese medicine when we talk about the liver we are not referring to the liver organ, but instead the subtle energy state of that organ.

Stasis of Blood: This type of pattern is seen only in very chronic headaches. In the case of headaches stasis of blood in the head may be caused by trauma.

This may be due to an old fall or accident, often one which the person has forgotten about.

If a headache always occurs on the same spot without fail, stasis of blood from trauma should be suspected. Headache from stasis of blood is very severe and intense.

It is stabbing or boring in character and patients will often describe it as a “nail being driven into the head” The pain is fixed in its location.

This type of headache is more common in old people or in women associated with blood deficiency and dryness.

What to expect with a treatment

The first visit to an acupuncturist is a consultation, you may or may not get treatment on that first visit.

The initial consultation is most important to enable the practitioner to gather all the information and collate it with the tongue and pulse diagnosis from this a treatment plan is devised and a prescription of acupuncture points will be chosen.

Kim- Dip.Ac. Lic.Ac. C.Ac. China MQP is a registered licensed practitioner of Chinese Medicine. Treatments are VHi, LAYA healthcare, Irish Life, St Pauls Garda Medical Aid Society, and HSF Healthplan approved.

E mail kim@ or write to the Natural Health Centre, Millfield, Buncrana, Tel. 074/9362606, From North 00353749362606 or to the The Traditional Chinese Medical Practice, 5 Academy Court, Oliver Plunkett Rd., Letterkenny, Tel. 0863981882, from North 00353863981882. Visit the Website

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