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Headache Treatment with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

“My only regret is that I didn’t come to see you twenty five years ago Mike said as he gathered his things together and walked back to the reception area of my office. That was the bad news. The good news was that, for the first time in twenty sis years, he was experiencing a dramatic reduction in the headache which had plagued him since an accident in the 1960s had damaged the front of his head, requiring surgical implantation of  a special fabric material to patch it all together. Several weekly treatments, followed by a couple more at wider intervals, and his chronic pain was an unpleasant memory. For several years following, I saw Mike at an annual community event and his upturned thumb and smile confirmed that the problem had not returned.

Several yeas ago a most pleasant fifty something woman came in complaining of migraine headaches which had forced her to take refuge in bed every week of her life since she was a small child. “Gripping, vicious pain” required weekly self injections with monthly trips to the doctor for heavier medications. Even with this regimen, she suffered a constant low level tolerable pain, with monthly exacerbations characterized by vomiting and dehydration. Following the second treatment she reported that “The entire left side is much better. The tenderness is gone. I can’t believe it. It’s like 90 % better. My shoulders feel lighter. This is the best my neck has felt in 20-30 years.”

Every month or so one regular patient shows up for her weekly treatment looking miserable, grimacing and exhausted. Typically, she will report that she has been down for several days with a pounding headache that her strongest prescription painkillers can’t even touch. And typically she will leave the office and hour later smiling with her pain either completely gone or at least reduced to a mild background discomfort.

The common thread among people such as these is that they have suffered for years from disabling pain, for which they have received conventional medical care in the form of medications which have produced further complications and misery but no relief of the problem whatsoever. It is with these patients that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can really prove its worth.

Why is it that natural medicine can be so effective when conventional western medicine has completely failed? Two factors to consider are first that we look for the underlying cause of the problem rather than simply covering up the symptom, and second that we are working in the realm of ‘chi’ or energy that is not even recognized yet alone involved in the treatment program.

First, consider the Chinese medical diagnosis. We examine the nature of the headache to determine which ‘organs’ and energy meridians are involved. A headache which feels like ‘a tight band wrapped around the head’ or which gets worse in damp weather may be related to the ‘spleen.’ If it corresponds to the menstrual period it may relate to the ‘liver.’

Headaches on the temporal region, the sides of the head, may be ‘gallbladder,’ while frontal pain may involve the ‘stomach’ meridian. I emphasize may be because many other factors must be considered before determining an accurate diagnosis. Are pulses weak, pounding, slippery, fast or slow? Does the tongue have a thick coating, or scalloped depressions around the edges? Is there a history of trauma such as car wreck, fall or even surgery? Did they vote for Dubya or Gore? (Just kidding). The point is, many clues help fine tune a diagnosis, facilitating the most accurate and effective selection of acupuncture  points and herbs.

Once the diagnosis is determined, a treatment plan is developed which utilizes all the appropriate resources available. Often I begin with some Shiatsu massage to loosen tight upper body muscles. The Chi Machine has also proven invaluable in relaxing the body and is frequently used in cases of pain anywhere in the body to get the ‘chi’ and blood circulating. Gwa Sha is a friction technique involving the rubbing of a hard object over the skin to elicit a red bumpy rash of released metabolic waste material. It can also be extremely effective in moving ‘stuck blood and chi.’ Acupuncture, applied to points not only on the head but often extremities as well, targets meridians involved in the region of  discomfort. Specific points have functions such as ‘clears the channels,’ relieves headache,’ ‘releases wind,’ or ‘opens the orifices.’ Many people are familiar with the ‘Hegu’ or Large Intestine point located between the thumb and forefinger which is a principal point indicated for any kind of headache. Chinese herbal formulas combine individual herbs with specific functions such as ‘crack static blood,’ dispel wind damp’ or ‘clear the channels.’

Lastly, I may recommend such diverse therapies as relaxation exercises, subliminal cassette tapes, visualization or hypnotherapy to complete the process. ‘Whatever Works’ could be my motto.

If you don’t suffer from chronic or acute headaches you probably know someone who does. Consult a qualified acupuncturist for advice on how you can transform your disabling pain into a fading memory.




Jim Martin, LAc., Dipl. Ac.(NCCAOM)


Serving Washington and Columbia counties since 1994, including cities and communities of Scappoose, St Helens, Warren, Rainier, Columbia City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Aloha, Portland, Gaston, Banks, North Plains, Carlton and Yamhill Oregon

Pain, headaches, gwa sha, gua sha, fibromyalgia, migraines, acupuncture, spooning, exercise, visualization

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