Headaches/Migraines

How to Treat Migraine with TCM and Acupuncture

By Xiaomei Cai L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

 

migraine
Migraine is a debilitating disorder

Migraine is a disorder that affects about 10% of people worldwide; women are three times more likely to suffer migraine headaches than men. A migraine is an intense headache that lasts anywhere from several hours to three days and is severe enough to impede normal activities. The throbbing, pulsating, or stabbing pain in the head typical of a migraine is usually accompanied by a variety of other symptoms, including nausea and increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Migraines develop in stages over several hours or days, and the exact nature of the experience differs widely from person to person.

Migraine is a recurrent condition, and patients are typically diagnosed with migraine if they have experienced at least five of these types of headaches in their lifetime. Some people suffer from chronic migraines that cause them to be debilitated several times per month.

There are different types of headaches, but migraine headaches are distinct from tension headaches, sinusitis headaches, and cluster headaches in key ways.

Although much research has been done, the physiological processes that cause migraines are still not completely understood. There is no cure for migraines, and treatment methods focus on preventing migraines from beginning or fully developing, and alleviating the symptoms until the attack abates.

While more research is needed to demonstrate exactly how acupuncture impacts brain chemistry, studies have made it clear that TCM methods and acupuncture treatment are an effective alternative for relieving migraine.

What Causes Migraine?

Current medical theory generally attributes migraines to abnormal neurological functions in the brain cells. This may be due to genetics, as susceptibility to migraines does tend to run in families, especially from mothers to daughters. A cascade of chemical activity, possibly caused by fluctuations in hormones, causes the blood vessels to constrict, which leads to the pressure in head, throbbing pain and elevated nerve sensations.

Stages and Symptoms of Migraine

Migraines do not simply cause a severe headache. Migraine episodes go through a pattern of stages, during which a variety of symptoms come and go. While a person may not be able to predict when a migraine will come on, once he or she is familiar with these stages, the course of the migraine attack is somewhat predictable.

  1. Premonitory or Prodrome Stage of Migraine – In the early part of the migraine, a person might experience physical signs such as stiffness in the neck (cervicogenic headache), especially on one side, frequent yawning, cravings for certain foods, marked thirstiness, and increased urination. Emotionally and mentally, a sense of fatigue, irritability, depression, or confusion might pervade. Some people feel hyperactive or even euphoric. This period can last for hours or days.
  2. Aura – Not everyone who has migraines experiences what is known as the Aura phase, which produces unusual sensory distortions. In other cases, people may experience the Aura phase, but not the subsequent headache pain phase. Some examples of migraine with aura symptomology include: Allodynia (hypersensitivity to touch, so much that it is painful), Metamorphopsia – a profound change in perception of the size of objects, including one’s own body, altered spatial awareness, Aphasia – impairment in the language center of the brain that causes forgetting words, feeling generally unable to express oneself verbally, Visual – seeing wavy lines or flashing lights (phosphenes), “blind spots” or reduced field of vision (scotoma), Auditory – loss of hearing, auditory hallucinations, Headache and dizziness or vertigo.
  3. Headache – Some people may have only mild pain during this phase, and therefore do not recognize they are having  a migraine. Many migraine sufferers, however, experience severe throbbing headache, sharp pain in head, or stabbing pain (ice pick headache), often on one side of the head, headache back of head, headache behind eyes, or in the temples on head. The pain is usually worse if one is active. Heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells are common, and people usually feel like retreating to a dark, quiet room to lie down. During this phase, people may also experience nausea and/or vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, hot flashes and/or chills, and strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, and depression. This phase can last anywhere from several hours to three days.
  4. Postdrome – The final phase of migraine is sometimes likened to a “hangover.” People generally feel low energy and low mood, as well as fatigue and compromised cognitive function. This phase, too, can last several hours to a few days.

Migraine episodes have a devastating impact on people’s ability to function normally. More than half of migraine sufferers miss at least two days of work per month, and many more try to get through their workdays even though they are in the middle of a migraine.

Are Migraines Related to Hormones?

Headaches can disrupt your life
Acupuncture helps relieve migraine pain and sensory symptoms

While anyone can have migraines, women are three times more likely to experience them, especially during their reproductive years. Many women perceive their migraine to be a period headache, because it occurs prior to or during the menstrual period. These types of migraine can be particularly debilitating. The cause of headache is believed to be due to a sudden drop in estrogen. This same mechanism can cause frequent headaches during perimenopause or early menopause due to fluctuations in estrogen levels.

Sometimes women are prescribed the use of continual oral contraceptive medication (i.e., skipping the placebo week of pills) in order to prevent drops in estrogen that may be causing migraine. This treatment does not work for everyone, though, and obviously is not helpful for women who may wish to get pregnant. 

Serotonin levels have also been linked to migraine. Research has shown that fluctuations in neurotransmitters and vascular functions in the brain are part of the migraine pathology, but it remains unclear exactly how this plays out. Triptans, drugs which act upon the serotonin receptors in the brain, are currently the most common treatment for acute migraine, as in some cases, they will stop a migraine attack from progressing. These medications do not work for everyone, though, and they cause constriction of blood vessels, which can lead to other problems, such as tightness, tingling, and hot flushes in various parts of the body.

Targeting the production and function of one of two specific hormones may produce some positive results, but as migraines appear to stem from a complex combination of hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions, a more holistic approach may be indicated. Acupuncture has been shown to help regulate hormones like estrogen and serotonin, specifically, but TCM achieves those results by observing and treating the whole person, emotionally, mentally, and physically; not only focusing on one or two isolated chemicals.

Acupuncture and TCM for Migraine Help

TCM theory is based on the concept of Qi as a life force energy which flows through the body along channels called meridians. Qi and blood move through these channels, several of which meet in the head. Blockages and stagnation in one organ system can impact other organ systems. Recurrent migraines are considered to be caused by stasis and deficiencies in the liver, spleen, and kidney, which cause yang energy from the liver to rise to the head. Overconsumption of the wrong kinds of foods can cause phlegm build-up in these organs, while alcohol and pungent foods can create excess heat energy. A typical TCM treatment protocol might involve using specific acupuncture points and herbs to quench liver fire and eliminate phlegm. 

Acupuncture can work on migraine pain with its natural analgesic effects, while also helping to prevent future attacks by resolving these deeper organ system imbalances. One study showed that migraine patients given acupuncture treatment experienced fewer episodes and missed fewer days of work than those given medications. The results also indicated that acupuncture was more cost effective than the medications. A review of randomized trials involving thousands of patients concluded that acupuncture is effective at reducing the number of days lost to migraines and should be considered a valuable treatment option.

Top 5 Home Remedies for Migraine Headaches

raw ginger
Use fresh ginger to make a soothing tea.

Migraines appear to be triggered by various stressors, lack of sleep, and certain foods. Aside from seeking acupuncture near me for migraine, there are several things you can do to prevent and relieve severe headaches. Natural remedies for migraines involve simple dietary, exercise and lifestyle modifications.

  1. Avoid foods that can trigger migraines. The most common ones are processed or prepared foods with added nitrates or MSG. Dairy products, especially very salty or aged cheeses, and chocolate should be avoided if you are susceptible to migraine, as well as extremely cold drinks and desserts. Dried foods like fruits and beans, and pickled foods can also be problematic.
  2. Emphasize foods high in magnesium, especially nuts, seeds, and high quality eggs.
  3. Ginger is known to relieve nausea and vomiting, and may alleviate other effects of migraine. One study showed that ginger was just as effective as Sumatriptan for decreasing symptoms of migraine. We recommend simply slicing fresh ginger root and steeping it in hot water to drink as a tea. 
  4. Try essential oils like lavender or peppermint. Rubbing a little bit into the temples can be soothing.
  5. Find a gentle practice that combines breathing, movement, and meditation. Yoga, particularly restorative yoga, has been shown to be helpful for headaches. This may be because it helps people relax more fully. It also encourages better symmetry between the right and left sides of the body and brain.

Best Acupuncture in Los Angeles for Migraine Help

Drs. Cai and Tan at Art of Wellness in Santa Monica have over thirty years of experience treating migraine and other types of headache with TCM, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. Headache help is just a phone call away. If you or someone you know has been suffering with severe headache or chronic migraines, please do not wait another day to call 310-451-5522 and get started with an acupuncture treatment program that will allow you to reclaim your life and experience headache relief.

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

How to Treat Headaches with Acupuncture and TCM

Chronic headaches can disrupt your life
Chronic headaches can disrupt your life

by Qineng Tan L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai L.Ac., Ph.D.

Headaches are extremely common. Virtually everyone gets a headache occasionally. But many people experience chronic and/or severe headaches that regularly disrupt their lives. With acupuncture and TCM, it is possible to get to the root cause of your headache without relying on pain medications that only mask the problem and can cause side effects.

The first U.S. survey study to examine the prevalence of different types of headaches showed that about 4% of the general population suffers from chronic headaches (defined as experiencing headaches about 180 days per year – or half the time). Half of those surveyed demonstrated characteristics of tension-type headaches, while roughly a third met the criteria for migraines.

In fact, headaches are one of the conditions most commonly seen in acupuncture clinics today. TCM doctors using acupuncture can offer relief headache without the side effects that prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause.

Headaches that can be treated with acupuncture include migraines, tension headaches, headaches occurring around the menstrual cycle, sinus headaches and stress-related headaches.

In this article, we will analyze the various types of headaches and their causes, discuss how they can be treated with acupuncture and TCM, demonstrate scientific evidence of the efficacy of those treatments, and offer some great tips for how you can prevent and manage headache pain with lifestyle modifications.

 

Seven Types of Headaches

Points for headaches
Acupressure can help relieve the pain

When treating with acupuncture, headaches are often classified by their location. This is only a broad guideline which needs to be further refined and integrated into the treatment for each individual, but this shows meridians and patterns that affect each area of the head.

  1. Top of Head: liver Meridian (Liver Blood Deficiency, Liver yang Rising)
  2. Sides of Head: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-yang, Liver-Fire or Liver wind Rising)
  3. One Side Only: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-Yang or Liver-Fire Rising)
  4. Temples: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-Yang, Liver-Fire or Liver Wind Rising)
  5. Behind the Eyes: Liver Meridian (Liver Blood Deficiency, Liver Yang Rising)
  6. Forehead: Stomach Meridian (Stomach Deficiency or Stomach-Heat)
  7. Whole Head: Kidney-Essence Deficiency or External Wind 

Many variables are taken into consideration in order to properly diagnose and successfully treat headaches. Each individual is treated differently depending on their unique symptoms.  

Some of the factors that will determine what acupuncture points and other treatment techniques are used include: what triggers the headache; the location, frequency and intensity of the headaches; the quality of the pain; the time of day that they occur, what helps the headaches and what makes them worse.

 

What Causes a Headache?

Sleep position is important
Your sleeping position can trigger a headache

A patient’s answers to the questions above help the TCM practitioner decide whether the headache stems from internal factors–such as emotions, hormone imbalance, lack of sleep or nutrition–or from external factors–such as toxins in the environment, or pinching in the neck due to pillow positioning. The presenting symptoms, quality and location of the pain, also help to clarify whether there is a deficiency (tiredness) or an excess (feelings of anger). Often, there is a combination of various contributing factors, and the practitioner tailors the treatment to address them in concert. 

 

 

Acupuncture and TCM Herbs for Headaches

Once the practitioner has determined the root causes of the headache, she will choose a combination of points to stimulate with acupuncture treatment. Many migraine headaches are associated with the liver, for example, so points might be chosen to cool yang fire in the liver. Tension-type headaches may be related to tension in the neck and shoulders, so the acupuncturist will work to release blockages in those areas. Usually, patients are encouraged to get two treatments per week for eight weeks. 

Systematic reviews published by Cochrane in which the results of several scientific trials were consolidated demonstrate that acupuncture is an effective treatment for prevention and relief of 

Acupuncture point LI4
Acupuncture for treating headaches

both tension-type headaches and migraines. They showed that patients receiving acupuncture treatment had on average about half as many headaches as those patients not receiving acupuncture. The results were also long-term, lasting for months beyond the cycle of treatment.

In addition to acupuncture treatment, the practitioner will likely recommend an herbal formulation that will address the patient’s specific needs. The daily use of the herb formula works to regulate the qi, balance yin and yang energies in the body, clear blockages and disperse stagnation. Studies have shown that consistent use of herbs over a period of several weeks can help significantly reduce headache pain.

 

Eight Self-Care Practices for Headache Prevention

Healthy habits can help prevent or reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Focus on what you can do to “get ahead” of your headaches.

  1. Nutrition – Eat meals and snacks at regular times (every 3 hours or so) to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Avoid foods and drinks that are known to trigger headache attacks, including: processed meats, aged cheese, alcohol, and items sweetened with aspartame. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches; be sure to drink plenty of pure water throughout the day in addition to other liquids.
  2. Sleep – Establish and maintain a regular sleeping schedule – rising and retiring at about the same time each day – including weekends and vacations. Sleep needs vary from person to person; figure out how much is optimal for you, and then strive for that nightly.
  3. Stress – Stress is one of the most common headache and migraine triggers. Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily life. Set firm boundaries about taking on extra commitments, set aside time for meditation or other quiet activities that help you unwind and focus, such as knitting, reading, cooking – whatever brings you peace. Avoid screen time in the hour or two before bed, and establish a grounding morning routine that you practice before looking at email and rushing to get somewhere.
  4. Activity – Cardiovascular exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, which are brain chemicals that improve mood and relieve stress. Walking or hiking in nature is a great choice. Gentle stretching exercises such as yoga can help you become aware of tensions and release them. Massage is also helpful.
  5. Acupressure pointsFor tension type headaches, try a pressure point called “Large Intestine 4.”  This point is located between the thumb and forefinger. Apply firm pressure, squeezing deeply into the webbing there.

    Acupressure point LI4
    Acupressure point LI4
  6. Headache Diary – Keep a diary of when your headaches occur, along with any triggers, and share the information with your healthcare provider.
  7. See your healthcare provider – Make an appointment with your healthcare provider to specifically discuss your headache.
  8. Be a partner in your headache care – Be informed, be a participant in your treatment and be an advocate for your headache care.

Don’t let chronic headaches keep interfering with your life. Talk to your TCM provider, and get started on a treatment regimen that will help you live more days headache-free. 

For more information, see our previous article about different types of headaches and triggers and this article about how acupuncture can treat migraines.

What is Multiple Sclerosis and How to Manage MS with TCM & Acupuncture

Multiples Sclerosis is autoimmune disease,  Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture are very helpful to improve these condition.

 

Rocks Balanced Traditional Chinese Medicine
Rocks Balanced

 

Dr.Tan’s Case and Testimony

 

Mr. M- a healthy 50-year old Caucasian gentleman—first visited my office Art of Wellness Acupuncture a few years ago. As an attorney, he had been working very hard to support his two daughters, who were both in college. About four months ago, the onset of serve lower back pain along with tingling in his left leg changed his life completely. He saw several doctors, had a number of x-rays and an MRI which revealed a moderate bulging disk on L4-L5. He tried different pain pills, NSAIDs, and underwent three months of physical therapy, none of which had helped. Recently, he had been experiencing numbness and weakness in his left leg, and was suffering from depression due to his inability to carry on with daily work and regular activities. When he talked to me, I noticed that he constantly rubbed his eyes. I asked if he felt any abnormalities in his vision. He answered yes, and that he had periodic occurrences of blurred vision. When I suggested that he showed me how he walks, I noticed his poor balance. He tended to fall on his left side because his left leg did not seem to follow his motion. Then I checked his knee and ankle reflex and found that they were excessively active. I was almost certain that the condition that made him suffer so much in the last few months was not a simple bulging disk or sciatica; it was a disorder of the central nervous system-Multiple Sclerosis. Immediately, referred him to a neurologist and suggested that he have a brain and cervical MRI. Two weeks later, he came back to my office with a confirmed diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

Mr. M. is just one of 200 patients who are diagnosed with MS every week in the United States. There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million patients who are suffering from this disease in the world.

 

Cause of MS

MS is an autoimmune disease in which infections or environmental changes can confuse the body’s defense system. Sometimes a foreign antigen mimics a group of the body’s own proteins. When the immune system response by mounting an attack against these foreign invaders, it inadvertently destroys the foreign antigen along with any similar antigens, including the body’s own tissues.

 

A recent study shows that a virus called adenovirus type 2 looks remarkably similar to the composition of the protective covering around the spinal cord and parts of the brain—the myelin sheath cells. The attacks of the immune system of this virus along with the mistaken attack on the myelin sheath is believed to be the ultimate cause of multiple sclerosis。

 

Common symptoms of MS

  1. numbness or tingling, usually in the leg or arm
  2. muscle weakness
  3. dizziness
  4. spasticity
  5. pain (moderate to severe)

    Neuron surrounded by mylin sheath near brain
    Neuron surrounded by mylin sheath near brain
  6. Ataxia
  7. Tremor
  8. Slurred speech
  9. Blurry, double vision or blindness
  10. bladder malfunction
  11. bowel dysfunction
  12. sexual dysfunction
  13. depression
  14. euphoria
  15. cognitive abnormalities
  16. fatigue

Most commonly, MS first manifests itself in a series of attacks followed by complete or partial remission as symptoms mysteriously lessen. These symptoms, however, will return later after a period of stability. This is called relapsing-remitting (RR) MS.

Treatment of MS

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS yet. In Western Medicine, the treatment focuses mainly on decreasing the rate and severity of relapse. Beta interferons, anti-cancer drugs (to weaken the immune system), and steroids are commonly used for the treatment of MS. These medicines can reduce the number of MS lesions, delay the progression of the disease, and provide symptomatic relief for the patient.

 

In TCM, a condition called “Wei Syndrome” with symptoms similar to MS, was documented 2000 years ago in a classic Traditional Chinese Medicine book called Emperor Classic Medicine. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine has been involved in the treatment ever since. MS patients who have tried acupuncture report improvement in pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and bowl, bladder function.

 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important for the MS patient. This includes:

  1. Getting enough time to sleep and rest. Go to bed early
  2. Exercise regularly. Tai Chi and Yoga are very good to help patient relax, balance and with muscle strength
  3. Balanced diet, a lot of vegetables and enough protein from white meat
  4. Stress management
  5. Daily meditation and positive thinking
  6. Staying connected with friends and joining a support group
  7. How to reduce and prevent inflammation 
                                   

Patient Story- Gilly

I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in 1991 and I had no idea what a crazy, unpredictable journey I was about to embark on.

I woke up one morning, tried to get out of bed but my legs were like jello, I had no balance and had double vision.

I was given a spinal tap and MRI and lesions were detected on my brain & cervical spine.

When first diagnosed, my neurologist put me on one of the few FDA approved medicines for MS which don’t cure the disease, but delay the progression. For that I inject myself daily and have done so for 17 years

For the first 7 years after being diagnosed, I experienced relapses (flare up of symptoms) on average twice a year. The treatment for relapses was a 5 day course of steroids administered through IV, followed by 12 days of oral steroids.

The relapses affected my motor skills the most, especially walking but after a treatment of steroids, I was almost as good as new.

My friends suggested I try acupuncture. I was recommended to Dr Tan because he had studied MS in China. *

Dr Tan has been monumental in my life. He has given me treatments for a multitude of injuries I’ve suffered over the years due to frequent falls and is an expert in pain relief. He treats me for stress relief which contributes my general wellbeing. Dr Tan is very knowledgeable about Western medicine and MS treatments so I always ask his opinion.

I’ve been diagnosed with MS for 21 years and feel fortunate that Dr Tan has been treating me for a large part of that time. Although I partake in Western medicine, I know that Western medicine only treats the symptoms but Eastern medicine treats the cause of the symptoms.

My MS has progressed to the stage that I now use a wheelchair full time.

I go to acupuncture for preventative care. My immune system needs extra help especially during cold & flu season.

I am very aware that MS is a ‘designer’ disease, and no two people have the exact same symptoms. I would encourage anyone with MS to avoid stress, keep up a healthy immune system and try to stay positive and happy, because your emotional state affects your physical being.

Five Reasons to Get Acupuncture for Migraines

Migraine headaches are a bit of mystery to the medical world. This ailment tends to be poorly understood and frequently undiagnosed and under-treated. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, this neurological disease affects nearly 39 million Americans. Migraines are characterized by severe, throbbing pain usually found on only one side of the head. Migraine headaches can also be accompanied by visual disturbances, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These types of headaches can last from four hours to several days. Because modern medicine doesn’t completely understand this neurological phenomenon, the typical treatment is somewhat hit or miss. continue reading »

It’s All In Your Head: Headaches and TCM

There are four main types of headache: tension, cluster, sinus and migraine. And, there are varying triggers for these headaches, such as food, stress, hormones, dehydration and weather. Fortunately, eliminating the triggers and finding natural ways to prevent and help an ongoing headache are possible. continue reading »