Headache and Migraine

Headache Types

Headache comes in many different guises, not just migraine. Below lists some of the major headache types.

Chronic tension-type headaches may be the result of stress or fatigue, but more than likely, they can be attributed to physical problems, psychological issues, or depression.

Migraine is considered a vascular headache because it is associated with changes in the size of the arteries in and outside of the brain, which is caused by changes in the chemicals of the brain. In particular, the level of the serotonin (the message-sending chemical) decreases during a migraine. Low levels of serotonin can make the blood vessels in a part of your brain spasm, which makes them narrower. Soon after, the blood vessels then dilate, which is thought to cause the headache.

Cluster headaches are short-lived and occur several times a day. When a cluster headache happens, there is a lot more activity in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. It releases chemicals that trigger the cluster headaches, by causing blood vessels to widen, causing an increase in blood flow to the brain.

Muscular headaches occur as a result of spasm or tightness of muscles, especially those in the back of the neck and shoulders. This causes a steady pull on the tissues covering the scalp, producing pain.

Hormone Headaches are headaches associated with femail sex hormones and a woman’s reproductive cycle. Many women suffer from headaches as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and find they are virtually headache free for the remainder of the month. The drop in oestrogen levels is thought to trigger painful headaches for some women. Another hormone headache that women may suffer from is called a menstrual migraine, which tends to strike during the second day of menstruation and remains until menstruation is finished.

Acupuncture for Headache

Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points (acu-points) located on the surface of the skin, which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect. Inserting needles at these acu-points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, but also regulate serotonin in the brain, which plays a role in migraine headaches. This is why headache is often treated with acupuncture.

Acupuncture not only relieves the pain but also increases the T-cell count, which stimulates the immune system. It can offer powerful relief without the side effects that prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine have been used to relieve headaches and migraines, as well as their underlying causes, for thousands of years and is a widely accepted form of treatment for headaches.

How long will the treatment take?

The length, number and frequency of treatments will depend on individual patient. Typical treatments last from 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Most patients get some degree of relief after a single treatment. But the pain may come back after a few hours to a couple of days. This is due to the imbalance of the body. Multiple treatments are highly recommended because acupuncture has proven to be accumulative. Normally once a week is recommended. Complex cases with severe imbalance of the body may need longer time.

Research Evidence

Since the early seventies, studies around the globe have suggested that acupuncture is an effective treatment for headaches and migraines. Recent studies show extremely positive results:

In a case study, published in the June 2003 Issue of Medical Acupuncture, doctors found that acupuncture resulted in the resolution or reduction in the frequency and severity of cluster headaches, and a decrease or discontinuation of medications. It was concluded that Acupuncture can be used to provide sustained relief from cluster headaches and to stimulate adrenal cortisol to aid in discontinuing corticosteroids.

A clinical observation, published in a 2002 edition of the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, of 50 patient presenting with various types of headaches were treated with scalp acupuncture. The results of this study showed that 98% of patients treated with scalp acupuncture experienced no headaches or only occasional, mild headaches in the six months following care.

In a study published in the November 1999 issue of Cephalalgia, scientists evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of migraines and recurrent headaches by systematically reviewing 22 randomized controlled trials. A total of 1,042 patients were examined. It was found that headache and migraine sufferers experienced significantly more relief from acupuncture than patients who were administered "sham" acupuncture.

Assisting Treatments

Acupressure(Chinese Medical Massage)

Chinese massage for the head also helps to relieve the headache. Massage therapy decreases the occurrence and the duration of headaches, sleep disturbances and distress symptoms and increases serotonin levels in adults with migraine headaches. Massage helps to relieve pressure in certain muscles or along certain nerves and then the body begins to relax and the blood flows correctly. It will shorten the course of treatment and increase the good curative effect.


Chinese herbal medicine is another common therapy for headache. It significantly reduces the pain, shortens the headache attacking time, reduces the frequency of the headache and prevents the headache from happening. The duration of Chinese herbal treatment is usually 1-2 months and also depends on individual patient's condition. For most of the cases, a properly prescribed Chinese herbal formula helps the patient to recover faster.