Headaches and migraines are a common complaint in the clinic and, fortunately, we can help! The goal is always to alleviate your pain as efficiently as possible, while also addressing the root cause so the headaches go away and stay away.
Acupuncture helps headaches by:
Relaxing muscle tension
Regulating blood flow
Promoting hormone balance
Types of headaches we treat
Headaches come with all sorts of personalities, so don’t worry if you don’t see yours listed. For the sake of simplicity, these are some of the more common types of headache that we see and treat:
Neck Tension Headaches
Jaw Tension Headaches
Concussion or TBI Headaches
Neck Tension Headaches
In case you hadn’t noticed, you spend a lot of time looking down. Like hours and hours per day. Looking down at your laptop, looking down at your cell phone, looking down at your e-reader, or even looking down at physical books if you’re stuck in the 20th century. (I’m raising my hand!)
An adult human head weighs about 10 pounds, and it’s supposed to balance comfortably on top of the spine. When you spend as much time looking down as most of us do, your upper back and neck muscles are constantly engaging and tightening in order to hold your head up.
Enter: the occipital headache. This is the headache that starts at the base of your skull and wraps up and around the top of your head to your eyeballs. It’s not pretty. And it’s often triggered by stress, because a lot of us store stress in our upper back and neck, which exacerbates the whole situation.
Acupuncture with cupping is phenomenal for this type of headache. We alleviate the pain, address the tight muscles in your upper back and neck, and help your whole body relax.
Jaw Tension headaches
Do you clench your jaw or does your dentist tell you that you grind your teeth? Chances are you get headaches. These tend to be the headaches in the sides of your head or behind your eyes that make you want to rub your temples.
The first thing I tell clients with this type of headache is to make a meditation out of releasing the tension in your jaw. Don’t hold your teeth together all of the time. When at rest (say, driving in your car or typing on your computer), keep your lips closed but add some space between your upper and lower molars as though there is an imaginary marble holding your teeth apart. This is a great mindfulness exercise, and it will help you start noticing the unnecessary tension that you hold in your body.
Step two? Come in for acupuncture. We will work directly on the tight muscles around your jaw, while also helping to unwind the underlying emotional and physical tension that causing you to clench up even in your sleep (when your body should get a chance to rest and relax)!
There are no two ways about it: concussion recovery takes TIME. However, you can greatly accelerate your healing process with regular acupuncture treatments. I recently helped a 40-year-old woman with debilitating post-concussion headaches, brain fog, and fatigue to feel 80% better in just 3 sessions. She came in for her 4th visit and reported, “My husband even commented that I’m acting like myself again.” She was thrilled.
If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury, your homework is to SLEEP. Your brain needs lots of sleep in order to heal, so please indulge yourself in lavish amounts of it. And then schedule some acupuncture to jump-start your healing process.
Hormonal headaches and migraines are just one of many delightful premenstrual symptoms that can make women dread the approach of their period. Chances are, if you are getting hormonal headaches, you are also experiencing other symptoms like breast tenderness, irritability, or even depression in the days or weeks preceding your period. The good news is that we work on all of the symptoms as a package.
Women need the right balance of estrogen and progesterone to be symptom-free in the luteal phase (the phase of our cycle that precedes the menstrual phase). Premenstrual headaches are typically the result of too much estrogen or too little progesterone, and my favorite treatment is a combination of acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine that helps to relieve symptoms while also balancing hormones.
I also give my ladies homework. Because fantastic liver function is required to help our bodies process out excess hormones, making a daily practice of supporting liver health can be a game changer. Here are three simple suggestions:
Drink lemon water. Make a daily pre-breakfast ritual of drinking a mug of warm water with the juice of half a lemon. This simple ritual promotes the release of bile, which not only prepares your body to digest your breakfast, but also has an important impact on your hormones. Bile is critical for hormone balance, because it binds to metabolized estrogens and then ushers them out of your body via your bowel movements. Bile is a rockstar! Who knew?
Think twice about happy hour. Alcohol may be fun, but it significantly impairs estrogen metabolism in the liver. The unfortunately result can be too much estrogen floating around in your system, and that spells trouble, ladies. Don’t underestimate the power of alcohol to drastically worsen your PMS.
Eat your broccoli! Yep, your mom was right. Broccoli is amazing for so many reasons, one being that it contains DIM (diindolylmethane), which supports health estrogen metabolism in the liver. All the cruciferous veggies have it, so get cozy with kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. I recommend cooking your crucifers and aiming for 1-2 cups per day.
Acupuncture for Headaches
So there you have it. Acupuncture is highly effective for headache treatment and prevention, and you should definitely give it a shot. And remember, it usually takes a series of treatments to reap the full benefits of acupuncture. If you have had your headaches for a while, or just had a big injury to your head, it’s going to take more than a single treatment to reverse your condition, so be patient. We are working to solve your headaches from their root cause. This is way different than popping an Ibuprofen to mask your pain.
Home Remedies For Headaches
Now what if you are committed to healing your headaches naturally and want to avoid Ibuprofen, but you can’t get into see your acupuncturist right away? Let’s face it—headaches can attack at any time and your acupuncturist doesn’t follow you around every day. (Let’s hope not, anyway!) So what can you do to treat yourself in the meantime?
When people get headaches in Colorado, one of my first questions is, “Are you well hydrated?” It’s so dry here that it’s way too easy to get dehydrated, and drinking some water is a great first line of defense. I advise my clients to drink half their body weight in ounces: If you weigh 150 lbs, drink at least 75 oz per day.
Sometimes a little acupressure can do the trick. An important acupuncture point in the treatment of headaches is located in the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. Massaging this point for a few minutes can help relieve some headaches.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Another easy trick is to massage a few drops of peppermint oil on your temples. And, hey, even if your headache doesn’t completely go away, you’ll smell minty fresh and get some nice aromatherapy!
Julie Johnson is a licensed acupuncturist, board certified herbalist, and the owner of Seven Seeds Acupuncture. She is an NCCAOM Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She is passionate about women’s health, self-care, using food as medicine, and eco-friendly living. She loves combining these passions in her practice of holistic healthcare, which is designed to provide a source of healing that empowers and uplifts her clients.