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Herbs and Acupuncture for Headache

Herbs and Acupuncture for Headache

Advice about herbal medicine

TCM for Headaches

Your doctor's opinion of your headache isn't much help to your acupuncturist. 

A physician's diagnosis, like migraine headache, cluster headache, stress headache, or sinus headache won't help us with acupuncture or with herbs. We'll need a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) diagnosis to guide us.  Here's a little information about how TCM sees headaches.

Headache Types

Headaches fall into two general categories, Excess Headaches and Deficiency Headaches. Both of these patterns result in the diminished flow of qi and blood in the head which is experienced as pain.  As the treatment principle states, "Where there's pain there's no flow; where there's flow, there's no 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. This oversupply is often due to heat energy rising in the body to the head.  Remember that everywhere in nature, "Heat Rises" and your body is no exception.

In many cases, the location of a headache provides a clue as to its cause.

Excess Headaches

One-Sided Headache or Occipital Headache

Liver & Gallbladder Excess (Migraine Headache) 

We all understand that heat rises. Since we are natural, heat will tend to rise in our bodies as well. Heat generated by anger, frustration, or toxicity will rise along the Liver Channel affecting the eyes or the head. When this occurs, heat may easily diverge to the Gall Bladder Channel, affecting the back and the side of the head. Usually a one-sided or migraine headache is considered a Liver/Gallbladder headache. This condition sometimes includes chronic neck and shoulder tension as well.

Common Causes of One-Sided Headaches

This happens when the Liver, which is sensitive to the emotional environment, is heated by anger, constraint, friction, frustration or stress. Additionally, drugs, alcohol, spicy foods, and other substances can also agitate the Liver. 

Useful Medicines for One-Sided Headache are:



Frontal Headache 

Dampness Caused Headache (Sinus Headache)

Frontal headaches 
are often caused by 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.  Most allergic headaches fall into this catagory.

Useful medicines for Sinus headaches are:

Stomach Related Headache

Frontal Headache, Facial Pain, and toothache
 from Stomach Fire can be caused by heat rising along the path of the Stomach Channel, thus affecting the front of the head or face. Headaches associated with nausea, toothache or painful gums often fall into this category.

Food Stagnation from overindulgence, eating at bedtime or irregularly, over consumption of spicy food, can also cause headaches. When digestate fails to properly eliminate, as in the case of food stagnation or constipation, the upward pressure of "rebellious qi" can cause headaches.

Useful Medicines for Stomach related headache:



Whole Head Headaches
 or Occipital (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)

Useful Medicines for Wind type Headaches Include:



Deficiency Headache

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.

Useful Medicine for Deficiency Headache

  • Women’s Precious Pills (Eight Treasures)


Acupuncture treatment for headaches will vary according to the type of headache being treated. 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.

Advice about herbal medicine

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