Herbs and Acupuncture for Headache

Herbs and Acupuncture for Headache

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Headaches

In order to treat headaches effectively with Chinese herbs, headaches must be diagnosed according to the principles of Chinese medicine. Modern day headache concepts such as migraine headaches, cluster headaches, stress headaches, or vascular headaches don’t give us a clue as to the real causes. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) concepts allow an understanding of the causes and also point to the cure.

Headaches fall into two general categories, Excess Headache and Deficiency Headaches. Both result in the diminished flow of qi and blood in the head. Poor flow is experienced as pain.

An excess headache is caused by an excess of qi and/or blood in the upper body resulting in congested or stuck flow in the head. Though an excess headache could be caused by a concussive injury, more commonly it is caused by an oversupply of qi in the upper body. This oversupply is often due to heat energy rising in the body

Heat provoking events like anger, frustration, stress, or ingesting alcohol or spicy foods can cause this problem and will make these ailments worse.


Some common basic TCM causes of headaches are:

One-Sided Headache (Migraine Headache)

Generally caused by Liver & Gall Bladder excess due to heat rising along the Gall Bladder channel- The Liver, is sensitive to the emotional environment. Anger, constraint, frustration and tension heat up the Liver. Drugs, alcohol, and other substances also agitate the Liver. Even our own cells’ waste matter, when not well diluted by the Blood, can create a kind of toxic heat.

In nature, heat rises. Since our bodies are nature, Heat will rise there as well. Heat generated by anger, frustration, or toxicity will rise along the Liver Channel affecting the eyes or the head. Heat may easily diverge to the Gall Bladder Channel, affecting the side of the head. Usually a one-sided or migraine headache is considered a Liver/Gall Bladder headache. This condition sometimes includes chronic neck and shoulder tension as well.

Useful medicines for this kind of headache are:



Sinus Headache (frontal headache)

Frontal headaches 
are often Sinus Headaches. Damp accumulations in the head produce swollen tissue and painful frontal headaches that are generally unrelieved by conventional anti-inflammatory drugs. Quite often these headaches are associated with internal dampness. Damp conditions also provide a breeding ground for many microorganisms. This leads to a condition known as Damp Heat, usually diagnosed as sinus infection.

Chinese Medicine for Allergic Sinus Headaches

Sinus  & Nose Pills or PE MIN KAN WAN to dry the dampness.

Other Frontal Headaches

Frontal Headache, Facial Pain, and toothache
 from Stomach Fire are caused by Food Stagnation which can result from overindulgence, eating at bedtime, over consumption of spicy food, and other causes. In these cases heat will rise along the path of the Stomach Channel, affecting the front of the head or face. Headaches associated with nausea, toothache or painful gums often fall into this category. Hangover headaches are caused by a combination of Liver and Stomach excess. The ultimate remedy for this is Stomach Curing Pills.

Whole Head Headaches
 (wind type)

These are caused by Wind Cold, Wind Heat, Wind Damp.- Wind caused headache is due to an invasion from outside the body, like a cold, flu or overexposure to the elements. Here the pathogenic (illness causing) element enters the surface of the upper body and obstructs the normal flow of Qi in the skin and muscle layers, thus causing pain. These headaches often precede or accompany colds, flu, or other diseases cause by airborne organisms. These headaches are commonly associated with the Urinary Bladder Channel, affecting the back of the head (occipital region)

The Chinese patent formula CHUAN XIONG CHAI TA WAN is often effective for this condition. Headache caused by fever of cold or flu is often relieved by Zong Gan Ling.

Deficiency Headaches, Blood or Qi Deficiency
 Whole Head Headache, headache with weakness, Headache following Menstrual period occur when the head is under nourished by Blood or Qi. These headaches are usually chronic and recurrent. They are often accompanied by fatigue and may get worse just after menses when there is less blood available in the head, as the available blood must be used in the lower body. Long-term use of Women’s Precious Pills (Eight Treasures) is recommended.



Acupuncture treatment for headaches will vary according to the type of headache being treated. Headache types in Chinese medicine do not resemble the headache types named in Western Medicine. Acupuncturists treat headaches caused by Liver Yang Rising, Qi or Blood Deficiency, Dampness in the Gall Bladder Channel, and other causes that sound exotic to those of us who are diagnosed with migraine headaches, cluster headaches, and other Western headache designations. Nevertheless, acupuncture is very successful treating most types of headaches, once they have been properly diagnosed according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In many cases acupuncture points used to treat headaches are not located on the head. Points to treat headaches are located all over the body. Needles might be placed along your legs, arms, shoulders, and perhaps even your big toe!

Typical treatments last from 20 to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments. Usually, the older the condition the longer the course of treatment.

Studies on Acupuncture and Headaches:

Since the early seventies, studies have suggested that acupuncture is an effective treatment for migraines and headaches. Recent studies show extremely positive results: Most of these studies have never been translated from the Chinese, however a few English language studies have been done.

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.

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your own physician or another medical professional. We make no claim as to efficacy or safety of herbs or herbal medicine appearing on this site. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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