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Acupuncture for Headaches

Tension or stress headaches are the most common form of benign headache. Conventionalpractitioners ascribe this term to a wide range of symptoms which in Chinese medicine mightrepresent a number of underlying syndromes.

The most common symptom in tension headache include a feeling of tightness around thehead, a pressure behind one or both eyes and throbbing or bursting sensations.Usually these symptoms come on gradually at any time of the day and will ease offgradually. Sometimes a tension headache can last for days on end.

Many people recognise that certain situations will trigger their symptoms. Very oftenemotional stress is an underlying factor. In other people more physical causes such asmuscular tension around the neck and shoulders, eye-strain, sinusitis and toothacheprecede the development of the headache. Some people can attribute their headaches tocertain foods or drinks such as chocolate, coffee, oranges or alcohol. Headaches of asimilar nature are a common symptom accompanying an infection such as a common cold orinfluenza. Tension headaches are also common pre-menstrually, in pregnancy and afterchildbirth.

In the absence of more worrying features, the most common practice is to reassure thepatient who may be concerned about a more serious underlying cause, and to recommend apainkiller. Aspirin and paracetamol are most frequently recommended, althoughincreasingly many people use more potent preparations which include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, or morphine related drugs such ascodeine or dextropropoxyphene. It is not uncommon for some people with recurrent tensionheadaches to self-medicate with the maximum dose of these drugs for days on end.

The reassuring feature of a tension headache is that the symptoms are not progressive over the course of a period of weeks to months. In most cases the headaches have a familiar pattern of symptoms, and although they may get worse and more frequent in timesof stress, they will settle down again when the pressure is off.

In Chinese medicine the syndrome of pain which is conventionally termed tensionheadache can be attributed to a range of syndromes according to the precise natureof the symptoms. External Full conditions which can cause headache includeinvasion of Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat and Wind-Damp. Internal Full conditions includeLiver Qi Stagnation, Liver Yang Rising, Liver Fire Blazing, Stomach Fire and BloodStagnation. Internal Empty conditions include Blood Deficiency, Qi Deficiency andKidney Deficiency. In all these conditions the underlying syndrome leads to aStagnation of Qi and Blood in the scalp or the neck which is the manifestation whichleads to the pain.

All the painkillers act by moving Qi and Blood. With the possible exception of aspirinin a case of Wind-Cold invasion, none of them addresses the root cause of theimbalance. Aspirin may release the exterior in an invasion of Wind-Cold and so maybe an appropriate energetic remedy. All the other preparations are suppressive innature.

In some types of headache, in addition to the effects of suppressed symptoms, thedrug-disease caused by the medication may also worsen the root imbalance. Forexample aspirin can cause Stomach Heat, and so may worsen the underlying problemin a Stomach Heat headache, even though it can improve the symptoms temporarily.Paracetamol and the morphine-related drugs are toxic to the liver and so may worsenthe underlying imbalance in headaches caused by Liver Qi Stagnation and Liver Yangrising.

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