Can Acupuncture Help My Headaches?

Can Acupuncture Help My Headaches?

Headaches are as varied as the people who suffer from them.

Headaches can feel hot or cold; they can wrap around the head, in the neck, behind the eyes or one side; they can make a person sleepy; they can cause spots in front of the eyes; and they can go on for hours or even days. The common factor is that headaches are uncomfortable and, unfortunately, very common.

Acupuncture is effectively used both as an intervention and as a prevention for headaches.

Whether someone is currently experiencing a headache, or is eager to prevent them, acupuncture works!. In fact, individual large-scale clinical studies have consistently demonstrated that acupuncture provided better pain relief compared with usual care.

When we use acupuncture to work with headaches, we seek to understand what is going on with the body. We might ask our patients:

  • Where is your headache pain?
  • When did it start?
  • Does it get better with heat or cold?
  • What makes it feel better (if anything)?
  • What makes it feel worse?
  • What is the pain like – is it stabbing, dull, shooting, pressure-like?
  • How often do you get headaches like this?
  • Are there themes prior to the onset of your headaches? (e.g. stressful event, poor sleep or physical activity)
  • What have you already tried to reduce the pain?
  • Have you had any imaging or diagnostic tests?

We might also ask questions about diet, hormones, sleep, exercise and stress. The answers allow us to formulate a diagnosis and treat our patients individually and appropriately.

The interesting thing about East Asian medicine is that the location of the headache tells us a lot.

For example, a headache that is located right on the top of the head is treated very differently to one that starts in the back of the neck. Similarly, a headache that radiates from behind the eyes is approached differently from one that feels like a band around the head.

The different types of headaches usually have distinct underlying causes. It is important to spend time assessing and addressing any possible underlying conditions that may be contributing to the pain.

One of the most common types of headache is known as a tension headache, or stress-related headache.

Stress-related headaches can be caused by muscular tension in the shoulders, neck and jaw. They tend to come on later in the day, after a long day at work or during a period of unusual stress. They tend to be bilateral (on both sides) of the head, and patients will often use their hand to massage their own shoulders or neck when they are experiencing the pain.

These headaches tend to respond extremely well to acupuncture, and research has shown that acupuncture may reduce the frequency of tension type headaches (Nielsen, 2017).  In addition, other modalities can help relax the muscles and bring the body back into balance. Your acupuncturist might choose to use a combination of acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, stretches and herbal medicine to bring about relief.

Patients may not know that it is a good idea to seek acupuncture treatment during a headache.

Instead of suffering through a debilitating headache and losing an entire day managing pain on your own, it is beneficial to schedule an appointment the morning you wake up with one. This is also helpful for the practitioner to diagnose the problem in real time.

If you are already under the care of a doctor or other practitioner for headaches, we are always happy to collaborate with your care team to bring you the best possible results.

To schedule an appointment or a free consultation, please visit our website.

Anna Rudel
San Jose Acupuncturist
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