Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Self-Help for Headaches using Chinese Medicine

Everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their life. For some people it is a one time or occasional event, for others it is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition.

According to Chinese Medical theory, any type of pain is due to stagnation: When there is pain there is no free flow; when there is free flow there is no pain. Headaches are no different in that respect. However there are many things that cause stagnation and stagnation can behave in different ways depending on what is causing it.

The two main types of stagnation are of Qi and Blood. Blood stagnation is more severe, leading to sharper more stabbing pain. Qi stagnation is usually milder in quality, even though it can still be a 10 out of 10 on a 1-10 pain scale; it tends to be more achy and diffuse.

Many things can cause stagnation. Internal organ dysfunction due to diet, emotions or trauma (physical or emotional) is one cause. Other causes are heat, cold, wind or damp/phlegm invading or being cultivated internally which prevent the Qi and/or Blood from flowing properly. When the elements invade the pain can have different qualities too: heat causes burning, hot swelling, "angry" feeling pain; cold is usually fixed pain that better with heat, worse with cold or ice; wind is pain that moves around or causes numbness; dampness or phlegm usually causes pain that feels achy, heavy and sluggish.

When it comes to headaches, not only is there variation in the quality of the pain, but also the location. Headaches can be anywhere on the head, and due to the many different causes there will be many different treatments. The best way to know what is behind your headaches is to visit your local acupuncturist and get treated. She or he can also guide you to certain foods and lifestyle changes that may help you get rid of headaches completely.

Here are several points on the body that may offer you some headache relief. If your pain is one-sided, use a point on the same side as your pain. You'll know you've found the point if it is sore when you press it firmly (sometimes it's very sore...):

LI 4--Many people know this as "the headache point," but it is really best for headaches on the front of the head (forehead, over the eyes or even toothaches). This point is located between the thumb and index finger on the back of the hand, at the half-way point of the bone between the big knuckles of the hand and the wrist.

LV 3--This is a great point to use for stress headaches, headaches behind the eyes, eye strain headaches or headaches on the top of the head. This point is located on the foot so it may be harder to reach for some people. Feel free to use the eraser end of a pencil or have a friend help you if your feet are out of reach. LV 3 is between the big toe and the second toe. Start where the base of these two toes join on the foot and slide your finger toward the ankle. The point is located at the "V" in the bones where your finger stops.

SI 3--This point is ideal for headaches that come up from the neck and are located at the back of the head, especially tension headaches from spending too much time hunched over a computer. This point is also very helpful with improving range of motion when turning your head left and right. It is located on the "pinky" side of your hand, just below the big knuckle at the base of your little finger; find it on the very side of your hand that would hit when you "karate chop."

GB 41--Another point on the foot, this is great for headaches on the sides of the head or temples, although is also useful for tension headaches coming up from the neck and shoulders. It may also help with headaches due to TMJ or teeth clenching. This can be combined with LV 3 and/or LI 4 to help lessen migraine pain. This is easiest to find by flexing the toes (lifting them and aiming them toward the ankle). The point is in a depression on the outside (little toe side) of the outermost tendon on top of the foot.

Hopefully these points will help you temporarily, until you can get in to see your acupuncturist (or between visits). Unfortunately headaches are common, but fortunately they often respond very well to acupuncture.