Bindi Zhu, M.D. (China), Ph.D. and Ileana Bourland, MSOM, Lic.Ac

"A man suffering from a headache went to the acupuncture clinic for treatment. After the examination, the doctor explained the treatment to him. He said, "I will put some needles in your head, hands and feet." The man answered, "Can you put some needles in my wife's head, hands and feet? She gave me the headache."

In order to treat a headache, you must find the root cause. Headaches, especially reoccurring headaches, require thorough investigation, including a complete history and neurological examination. By using the diagnostic tools made available by western medicine and differentiation of syndrome in eastern medicine, we can more accurately diagnose headaches and figure out the right treatment plan for each different individual.

In western medicine, headaches may be classified as vascular, muscle contraction, and traction-inflammatory. Vascular headaches include migraine, cluster, and hypertensive headaches as well as headaches from secondary response (e.g., to infectious process). Muscle contraction headaches may occur from psychogenesis, such as response to trauma or as a result of medical disorders such as cervical arthritis. Traction-inflammation headaches may result from infection, intracranial or extracranial lesions, occlusive vascular disorders, diseases of facial structures, and medical disorders such as arthritis.

In Chinese medicine, headaches are classified in a different way. Subdivided into into nine types, a headache could originate from wind cold, wind heat, wind damp, Kidney deficiency, Liver yang, stagnation of blood, dampness, qi and blood deficiency, or phlegm disturbing the mind. Meridian theory also provides an explanation for the root cause of headaches. Stagnation of qi and/or blood in the tai yang, yang ming, and shao yang meridians can cause pain along those channels, including headaches.

As an active participant in your health care, you need to stay aware of the identifying characteristics of your headaches. Make a note of when it happens, how long it lasts, what makes it feel worse and better, what brings it on, the location, severity, and nature of the pain (dull, stabbing, etc). Is the headache accompanied with any other symptoms? These questions will help clarify the correct course of treatment for your type of headache.

Starting a course of treatment when you do not have a headache can help prevent headaches from reoccurring. Conversely, acupuncture and herbs can provide immediate relief during the acute phase of a headache.

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