Headaches & Acupuncture

Many people suffer from frequent headaches. There are many types of headaches. For treatment to be beneficial it is necessary to differentiate the causative factors. Acupuncture is a safe, drug-free alternative headache treatment without side effects.

Stress induced/tension headaches

Busy lifestyles and work schedules can create high levels of stress. When the body is in a constant or frequent state of stress, blood and qi stagnates in the body. Often, this manifests as a headache. It is important to incorporate stress-reducing activities in your daily life to keep the blood and qi moving smoothly throughout the body. Acupuncture has been shown to greatly reduce stress and promote relaxation. For more on the science behind acupuncture and stress relief, check out this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/16/acupuncture-could-help-prevent-stress_n_2883996.html

Also, poor ergonomically designed work spaces can create tension in the upper back and neck which can lead to headache. Acupuncture can help headaches caused by postural issues by needling, cupping, or using gua sha to release the affected muscles. However, it is important to note that it will often come back if the posture isn’t corrected.


The cause of migraines can be varied and complex. Therefore, the diagnosis and protocol decided upon by your practitioner can be quite varied as well. It is important for the patient to notice patterns and signs associated with their migraines as acupuncture can be a very effective preemptive tool to prevent the full onset from occurring. At the first sign, call and get an acupuncture appointment as soon as possible.

In treating other types of headaches, it is quite common for needles to be placed on the head and neck. For migraines, the protocol can be quite different. As acupuncture needles promote qi and blood circulation into whatever area of the body they are placed, with migraines we want to draw the energy out of the head and down into the body and lower limbs. If the migraine is especially severe, the patient may not be able to tolerate needles on the head as well.

Headache related to sickness (Head cold/flu)

Varying symptoms guide us to the pattern with which the patient is presenting. Chinese Medicine is very centered around the idea of opposites (i.e. yin/yang, hot/cold etc.) so symptoms such as fever vs. chills (or both alternating) or dry vs. productive cough help to point the practitioner in the right direction. Once the correct diagnosis is made, herbs and points can help address the symptoms and many others including headache.

The location of the pain on the head indicates which channels are affected. Needling specific points along these channels can greatly and in many times instantly alter, decrease, or eliminate the headache.

Cycle-related headache

Some women experience headaches before, during, and/or after menstruation. The timing of a headache in relationship to a woman’s cycle can indicate different pathology patterns. The location of the headache also gives us as practitioners a lot of insight about the channels that are affected. For more in depth information on the varying types of menstrual headaches and useful herbal combinations, go here: http://www.acupuncture.com/Conditions/menseheadache.htm

Red flag headaches

If you have any of the following types of headaches you should seek urgent medical care.

  • Thunderclap
  • Sudden onset with severe pain
  • Headache accompanied by fever or neck pain
  • Onset after the age of 50
  • Neurological signs (confusion, change in personality, unconsciousness)
  • Following a neck injury or adjustment

Tips for avoiding headaches

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and chocolate
  • Introduce meditation or other stress-reducing activities into your life
  • Get regular acupuncture!!

As always, with our medicine, prevention is a key component. The more in-balance your body is, the less likely you are to suffer from pain of any kind.