Treating Headaches Holistically

Treating Headaches Holistically

Are headaches significantly interfering with your life?

Do you have recurrent headaches that aren’t responding to other therapies?

Do you have a suspicion that your headaches are related to your posture or stress?

Are you tired of relying on medications to curb your weekly headaches?

Are Rx medications causing uncomfortable side effects? Are you tired of living in pain?

More people complain about headaches than any other medical ailment.

Approximately 45 million Americans experience some form of headache each year. Of those, 8 million sought out their doctor for headache relief [1] and 3 million people went to the emergency room [2].

For those suffering chronic headaches, we don’t have to tell you that they are a nuisance affecting quality of life. They can be debilitating and isolating to the point of destroying plans and interfering with your ability to accomplish tasks.

You don’t have to suffer. Headache pain relief is possible! 

Fortunately, acupuncture provides a safe and effective pain relief approach that can be a stand alone or as a complement with other therapy approaches. By working with a trained acupuncture pain specialist, you can experience noticeable pain relief both in the short and long term.

Types of headaches

Headaches can manifest in several ways and it’s important to understand the correct subtype and triggers in order to seek the proper avenue of treatment.

Location is an important clue as to the cause. Pain can appear in the same location of the root cause or it can be referred from another part of the body.

Headaches also vary in terms of frequency, intensity, duration, quality of pain and causative factors.

Acupuncture’s sweet spot in treating headaches encompass the following common headaches:

Tension type headaches

Tension-type headaches, also known as stress headaches, are also known as stress headaches and are estimated in one study to affect 48-78% of people worldwide at some point in their lives. Surprisingly, they cause more missed work days than migraines [3].

These mild to moderate headaches are episodic or chronic in nature. At their root, they are a direct result of muscular and myofascial pain and dysfunction as well as referred muscle pain. Stress and fatigue are further contributing factors.

A typical presentation looks like:

  • Dull, achy, pressured, constriction or tight sensation
  • Tight band of pain around the skull, from forehead to the back of the head
  • Radiating pain down into the neck and shoulders.
  • Or sensation of fullness in the head or feeling as if it’s coming from inside the head.

Tension headaches differ from migraine headaches in that they are not accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.

Migraine headaches

Migraines are a recurring headache disorder with episodes of throbbing and pulsating pain typically affecting one side of the head, although pain can occur on both sides. They are the second most common type of headache, affecting 15% percent of the population one out of every six Americans [4]. Far more debilitating than tension-type headaches, 80% of adults with migraines experience disabling symptoms affecting work and productivity [5].

Associated symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, auras, sensitivity to light, sounds or smells, and even neck pain. Episodes or attacks tend to occur in distinct phases.

Top 5 triggers for migraine headaches include

  • Stress
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Skipping meals
  • Changes in weather
  • Excess or insufficient sleep
For more information about how acupuncture can help migraines click here.

Neck pain and headaches

It’s not uncommon for headaches and neck pain to coincide. Some headaches begin in the head and contribute to the development of neck pain while others originate in the neck causing pain to move upwards into the head.

Tension-type headaches can lead to chronic tightness extending from the muscles at the base of the skull into the back of the neck and sometimes shoulders.

Other conditions stemming from injury, compression, or pinched nerves in the cervical vertebrae trigger symptoms in the head. A chronically stiff neck and upper back is also sufficient in causing headaches.

Pain originating in the neck tends to manifest:

  • Back of the head and scalp
  • Forehead
  • Behind the ears or eyes
  • Front of sides of the neck
  • As trigger point knots in the shoulders
  • Weakness, numbness or tingling sensations down the arms

For more information about how acupuncture helps pain click here.

TMJ headaches

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is the second most common musculoskeletal disorder causing pain and disability. When the jaw and surrounding muscles become tense or the jaw joints themselves become damaged, significant stress is placed on the head leading to dull aching pain near the temples, ears, the jaw joint and base of skull. Pain can also radiate to the back or side of the head or down into the neck.

TMD/TMJ headaches, however, are often confused with tension or migraine headaches. While there are overlapping symptoms, TMD-related headaches start at the jaw and present with symptoms unique to TMD:

  • Jaw or facial pain, tenderness, or tightness
  • Pain or difficulty when chewing
  • Clicking or popping in the joint when opening or closing the mouth
  • Limited function or locking of the jaw

For more information about how acupuncture can help TMJ pain click here.

Common causes of headache

These four types of headaches share several triggers that either bringing on pain, keep the pain cycle going, or exacerbate symptoms:

  • Stress (mental, emotional, or physical)
  • Over work
  • Poor posture (forward head posture from excessive mobile phone or computer use, sitting for long period of time, or unconscious habit)
  • Sleeping positions
  • Bruxism (unconscious grinding or clenching of teeth at night)
  • Stiff neck and shoulders or nerve irritation in the spine
  • Injuries and strains

Many of these are connected to lifestyle habits which is good news because they respond well to acupuncture, self-care, and lifestyle modifications.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any further inquiries or concerns or schedule a free consultation here.

Anna Rudel
San Jose Acupuncturist
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  1. The Neuroscience Center at NNA. The Headache Center.
  2. Lucado, J, Paez, K, Elixhauser, A. Headaches in U.S. Hospitals and Emergency Departments, 2008. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Briefs.
  3. Scripter C. Headache: Tension-type Headache. FP Essentials. 2018; 473: 17-20.
  4. Burch, R, Rizzoli, P, Loder, E. The Prevalence and Impact of Migraine and Severe Headaches in the United States: Figures and Trends from Government Health Studies. Headache. 2018 Apr; 58(4):496-505.
  5. Yucel, A, et al. Estimating the Economic Burden of Migraine on US Employers. The American Journal of Managed Care, December 2020, Volume 26 (12).