Managing Tension Headache with Acupuncture

Managing Tension Headache with Acupuncture

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have had a long history treating tension headaches.

Today, tension headaches are one of the most prevalent medical complaints in Australia.

What Is a Tension Headache?

Firstly, tension headache is characterized by frequent or continuous mild pain on both sides of the head, with a vise-like grip in the back of head or forehead.

This can spread over the entire head and get worse toward the end of the day.

It’s common for people to experience tension headache less than 15 days per month. When symptoms appear more than 15 days per month, they’re considered chronic.

Poor sleep, stress, TMJ, neck pain and eyestrain are all potential triggers.

Western Medical View

Diagnosis of tension headache is by clinical evaluation. A patients symptoms, physical exam, and neurological exam are done.

Triggers should be identified and treatment can include analgesics and stress management.

Drugs used to prevent migraine, such as amitriptyline can prevent chronic tension headaches but come with side effects.

For mild to moderate tension headaches OTC analgesics (e.g. aspirin) can offer relief. Massage on the area can help.

For severe headaches, prescription analgesics that contain opioids are used but may come with serious side effects.

Chinese Medical View

One of the important parts of Chinese medicine is making a diagnosis by a patient’s entire presentation, not just their headache symptoms.

In Chinese medicine, it is not the case to simply say, ‘right’, here is the magic bullet for headaches.

What Chinese Medicine does is identify a diagnosis based on what is happening in all major body systems.

For example, if a patient has headaches, constipation, irritability and a tense pulse. Therefore a diagnosis could be related to the circulatory function of the liver.

As a result by regulating the liver, all of these symptoms are expected to improve.

5 Triggers of Tension Headache in Chinese medicine

  1. Firstly, stress and improper diet may lead to poor circulation through the liver (stagnation). In this case a person can have headaches that worsen leading up to menses. PMS, irritability, menstrual cramps, constipation, shoulder tension and emotional frustration are seen.
  1. Secondly, prolonged stress can lead to ‘Liver heat’. Here, tension headaches are accompanied with short temper, high blood pressure, jaw tension, irritability and dream affected sleep.
  1. External cold pathogens. Neck pain, headache at the back of the skull, ongoing cold/flu and dizziness can indicate a pathogen invading the body. Sitting next to a air conditioner during summer or exposure to wind in winter is often a cause of this type of headache.
  1. Deficiency of the Spleen/Stomach can include tension headache with symptoms of diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, feeling sluggish after exercise and a heavy feeling through the body.
  1. Last but not least, Blood deficiency presents as tension headaches accompanied with fatigue, dizziness, an empty feeling in head with a dull ache. In women scanty menses can be seen.

To conclude, each trigger and underlying cause of tension headaches each require a specific method of acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine.

Acupuncture for Tension Headache

The scientific evidence available suggests acupuncture is effective for treating frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headache (2).

Therefore, a course of acupuncture of at least six treatments can be a valuable option for people with frequent tension headache (2).

5 Lifestyle Tips To Manage Tension Headaches

  1. Firstly, include exercises such as qigong, tai-chi or walking.
  2. Learn relaxation techniques such as transcendental meditation
  3. Limit alcohol, coffee, hot/spicy or raw/cold food
  4. Stay hydrated
  5. Finally, apply for an assessment here

David L. Edwards is an author, herbalist and licensed acupuncturist. He is the author of The Body Fat Formula and The Pocketbook guide to Chinese medicine and painless cures (available on amazon). David is the creator of Barefoot Health and Wellness health programs.

Apply For The Tension Headache Relief Program (September 18th to December 11th) here or book an assessment with David by calling 9462-0585

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  1. Porter, Kaplan (editors). The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 19th ed. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., Whitehouse Station, N.J. pg. 1717, 1725. 2011
  2. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headaches (Review) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin BC, Vickers A, White AR
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