Let me tell you straight away, it doesn't matter how many years you have suffered or how bad the pain can get, there is relief for you in acupuncture. Now, I may be biased, but I’ve seen amazing results over and over again with people that have suffered for years, decades even, with debilitating head pain. I’m talking lights out, no noise, no strong smells, no sitting up, seeing auras and severe nausea. The pinnacle of headache and pain. There is a solution. Of course your “not just a headache” doesn’t have to be that ferocious, but whatever head pain you experience, acupuncture can help.
How does acupuncture help?
I always tell my clients, I am confident I can help relieve your headache. The funny thing about headaches is that they have momentum. Cutting it off as you're getting it is your best chance to reduce or relieve it, but if it gains momentum, then no amount of tylenol or advil can tame it. The same goes for fixing a headache. Once it starts improving, that ball keeps rolling. The farther we push it with treatment the more likely it will fix itself.
There are two questions I always want to know. Where is your headache and how bad is the pain out of ten ( 10 = lights out, no work, life interrupted). The more important of these two questions is the first one. The location of your head pain is the biggest indicator for what is causing it. Your head is not the cause of your headache, your headache is the symptom of something else that is wrong. Examples of types of head pain would be:
Back of head & forehead: The most common form of head pain, sometimes it can even start at the back of the neck and go over the top of the head to the eyebrows and even into the eyes. Mostly associated with stress, muscle tension and emotional/mental stresses. Often the source is tense and tight neck muscles from work, poor posture, poor sleeping position and over tiredness.
TMJ (Temporomandibualr Joint)
Temples: Located in front of the ears these types of headaches can be extremely painful and last a much longer time. Again, this type of head pain is usually caused by stress causing you to clinch your jaw during the day or night.
Below and above eyes: Sinuses are swollen and inflamed, caused by blockage and infection of the related tissue. Can be due to the common cold, or can become a chronic issue with allergies, nasal polyps or a deviated septum.
Moving head pain: These are less common but tend to be incredibly painful. Usually the area of the eyes, they usually don’t last long, but they do continue to reoccur.
One sided: Generally migraines are one sided, but can sometimes be like a band around the head. Women are 3 times more likely to get migraines than men. They can often be related the menstrual cycle, therefore hormonal in origin and can occur before , during or after the period. These types of headaches can also be closely related to the weather occurring during changes in pressure.
There are many other reasons to get recurrent head pain, most commonly as just a side effect of other known issues, but these are some of the most common versions seen in the clinic.
Once we are clear on where your headache is, and have a good idea of the why you have it, I can then choose the correct and most commonly used acupuncture points and channels to start to relieve your pain. Which is where the second piece of information comes in useful. If your headache is 7/10, as we work this number should reduce. After each point or pair points we check in again, “What is your head pain out of 10?”, in this way we define your individual treatment and measure its effectiveness as we go.
I’m often asked, “How many acupuncture needles do you usually use”, and I always answer as few possible, but as many as we need. The great thing about this measured and systematic approach is that as we work we prove which points are most effective for you and which ones aren’t as effective. This leaves us with a treatment that is known to be effective, and for the second appointment we have our points already mapped out, so there are no extra needles. Only the ones that work for you. The most important part of this process is that we only use the acupuncture points that work for you. How do we know it's working? Because your pain reduces and becomes less as we go.
What's our goal?
Practically on the day to day it’s always 0/10, ie. no pain. Often we find we get about 80- 90% pain relief at which point 1-2/10 pain is very minimal and much improved. Usually what happens from this point is getting up and being mobile relieves the last remaining pain and your headache is gone. Voila! 0/10.
Long term, the goal and the reason to get acupuncture is to teach the body to manage itself. Acupuncture is similar to learning something new, like a new language or musical instrument or dance. It takes time, and gets easier as you go. In the beginning the treatments are more frequent and longer, slowly progressing to less often and shorter. A standard treatment would be twice a week for two weeks, once a week for four weeks, then once every two weeks for a month, and finally once a month for 2 months. This is how we teach the body to manage itself. As soon as we have zero headaches a week, we continue to increase the time in between appointments to let the body take over. Then, if there are no symptoms, you have gone from headaches that are 7-9/10 that happen say 3 times a week, to none over months we are satisfied that the results are permanent. A big life change to say the least. This schedule may have to be manipulated as we live our lives, stresses come and go, but this is good general map as to what we want to happen.
Usually when I see people it’s because nothing else is working anymore. Which, is life as acupuncturist. No one chooses the little needles first, but they all wish they came in sooner.
There are a number a reasons to choose acupuncture for Migraines and headaches. As I explained above, the approach is systematic, thorough and the results happen as we go. We prove that it’s working on day 1. I think that clarity is very reassuring during treatment and the feeling of ease and confidence that comes with it becomes part of the treatment as well. Finally no more pain! Relief, less stress and a good night's sleep.
The great benefit of acupuncture is that it is safe and has no side effects, in fact I’d say it has the opposite in that it comes with positive “side effects”. Today there is great awareness around every pill we swallow because we know each one comes with a list of side effects and we weigh those against the issues we want to resolve. Acupuncture and TCM work because we treat the whole body, so we may be curing your headache but we are also improving organ function such as digestive efficiency, improved circulation, reducing muscle tension and stress. Which results in a happier more energetic you. I’d say those are more significant results! The headache relief is like a bonus!