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Getting to the Point: Acupuncture for Headache Relief

Getting to the Point: Acupuncture for Headache Relief

Stabbing, piercing, tight, throbbing, blinding.....these are common pain descriptors used by the headache sufferers I treat in clinic. Despite many modern advances in the diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment of headaches and migraines, many people continue to suffer. Perhaps you're one of them. You may be able to continue about your daily routine with a dull headache stewing in the background. But for some 2.7 million Canadian who suffer with migraines, the pain can be debilitating, leading to days lost curled up in a dark room waiting for the pain to subside. The significant impact this has on people’s lives have led many to seek out alternatives to pharmacological therapies such as Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

The process of discovering the underlying cause of a patient's headaches starts as soon as they walk through my door. It's one of the key differences in approach between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western Allopathic Medicine. Don't get me wrong, we'll do everything we can to reduce the immediate pain, but the goal is to correct the underlying cause(s) of the headache for prolonged results. The location, frequency, quality and known pain triggers (stress, diet, hormonal cycles, etc.) are valuable clues in determining which TCM organ systems are out of balance. Simply stated, from a TCM perspective if there is pain in the head, there is either too much, too little or, obstructed blood flow to the head. The underlying causes of the change in blood flow can vary and will determine the direction treatment will take. For example, your headache could be caused by a deficiency condition, in which there is not enough blood to nourish the head. In contrast, a sinus congestion headache might be diagnosed as too much phlegm obstructing the flow of blood.

But let's be clear, reducing or eliminating long standing headaches and chronic migraines requires change and patience. This is not a passive process. Diet, exercise and lifestyle changes are foundational to the success of treatment. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are used to shift organ systems into balance, reduce stress and muscle tension, promote hormonal health, and ensure optimal functioning of elimination organs such as the liver, kidneys and bowels.

Does Acupuncture really work? In 2009, The Cochrane Collaboration, perhaps the most trusted, independent scientific review group in the world, issued a report summarizing the results of 22 clinical trials on the use of acupuncture for migraine headaches.

Their conclusions:

  • There is consistent evidence that acupuncture provides additional benefit to the treatment of acute migraines or to the routine care of migraines.

  • Acupuncture is at least as effective as and, possibly more effective than conventional drug treatment with fewer side effects.

  • Acupuncture should be considered as a treatment option.

So if you're ready to play an active part in reducing your headaches, want to effect long term change, then the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach may be for you.

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