What Are Headaches
Headaches are, quite literally, a pain in the head. They are a common affliction for many people. The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that 12% of the population
Headaches are often classified based on cause1. Primary headaches are those that are caused by an overactivity with or problem with the pain sensing structures in the head. The main types are migraine, tension and cluster headaches.
Secondary headaches are a symptom of another disease that affects the pain sensing structures in the head. Some examples of causes of secondary headaches include: sinusitis, blood clots, dental problems, concussion, etc.1
What Can You Do?
I just listened to a podcast about headaches on Everyday Acupuncture2. The guest mentioned a book he had read that had helped many of his patients take control of their headaches. The book was written by David Buchholz, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His idea is that all headaches stem from the same “cause”. Everyone has a threshold level above which stimuli will create pain. People are sensitive to various triggers and when exposed to enough triggers to reach their threshold they will develop a headache. The book, Heal Your Headaches, outlined a simple 3 step process for overcoming headaches of all types.
Step 1: Avoid the “Quick Fix.” Too often painkillers only make matters worse because of the crippling complication known as rebound.David Buchholz
Step 2: Reduce Your Triggers. The crux of the program: a migraine diet that eliminates the foods that push headache sufferers over the top.
Step 3: Raise Your Threshold. When diet and other lifestyle changes aren’t enough, preventive medication can help stay the course.3
Medication Makes Headaches Worse
Often people suffering from headaches take pain medication for it. Over time the medication can lead to rebound headaches. Rebound headaches tend to occur early in the day, often waking people up, go away with
Mr. Buchholz’s first step is getting off all medication taken on an “as needed” basis. This is NOT prescription medication that you take daily. It is pain killers taken only when needed, such as Tylenol, Advil, Aleve and Motrin. Stopping these will reduce the rebound effect.
The second step to control your headaches is to remove as many triggers from your life as possible. Some triggers such as weather changes, hormone levels
Foods high in the amino acid tyramine have been linked to causing migraine headaches4. Some common foods containing tyramine include: coffee, chocolate, aged cheeses, processed meats, fermented foods (tofu, kimchi, sauerkraut), beer, wine and MSG. A comprehensive list of good and bad foods can be found here: https://migraine.com/blog/elimination-diet-foods-to-eat-foods-to-avoid/
Many people find that lowering their exposure to triggers is enough. Once they have reduced the trigger load they no longer suffer from headaches. In his book, David Buchholz also talks about raising the threshold level. He makes some suggestions on how to do this in conjunction with your physician.
The Role of Acupuncture
Acupuncture can be a beneficial aid to help you along on the road to taking control of your migraines. During stage 1, when eliminating rebound inducing medication, headaches can be common. Acupuncture can help relieve pain and make this transition easier.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also looks at the body as a whole, not just a headache. There may be other lifestyle factors that are contributing to the headaches. Your TCM Doctor can help you explore these factors and suggest help. Regular acupuncture sessions can help you deal with daily stress and tight muscles to reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches while you gain control of the triggers.
For more information about migraines and the effect of acupuncture read the post Acupuncture for Migraine Headaches.