Acupuncture For Headaches, Explained

Oh, Richmond, you all seem to have a lot of aching heads! Clearly, you are not alone, as headaches are one of the top ten most disabling conditions. Good news!  We are going to talk you through the discomfort, and teach you about when acupuncture for headaches is most appropriate.

Specifically, there are two types of headaches: tension and migraine. Tension headaches are the most common, while migraines may be accompanied by a throbbing pain and nausea that tends to get worse with activity (and affect nearly three times as many women as men). Migraines may last for a few hours or as long as three days, yikes!

When you’ve ruled out hangovers, dehydration, bad perfume and tight ponytails, you may want to take a closer look at what may be causing your pain. Here are the most common causes of headaches that we see here at the clinic, along with some helpful tips for what you can do to find ease, including when acupuncture at our Richmond clinic would be an appropriate step.

Sinus Pain + Congestion

This is the number one cause of headaches here in Richmond. Didn’t have allergies or sinus issues until you moved to Richmond? We hear that all the time. Sinus headaches result from inflammation within the sinus passages, where the increase in fluid combined with the inability to drain results in pressure within the sinus cavity that causes a headache. This type of a headache can be associated with allergies that may include symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, itching and runny nose. You may experience pain behind your eyes, a headache that gets worse when you bend forward and pain that is worse during damp, cold weather.

But we will say that 80% of people that have headaches stemming from sinus congestion have NO IDEA that their sinuses are plugged and inflamed.  This is because you have sinus cavities that spread into your cheeks and your forehead, and a lot of people don’t have a good sensory awareness of these areas.  If your headache feels like it’s in your cheek, or the middle part of your forehead near your eyebrows, your sinuses may well be involved.

Treatment is directed at decreasing inflammation within the sinus passages. Luckily, antibiotics are rarely necessary and some home remedies may bring temporary relief.  If you want to get to the bottom of the problem and get more lasting relief, come see us.

Neck Tension + Stress

In front of a computer all day? Then this may apply to you. Sitting at our desks with poor posture places a lot of tension in our neck and shoulders, not to mention “text neck” where we’re consistently hovering our head over our phone (are you nodding yet?). As a result, that tension inhibits healthy blood flow, which can absolutely lead to headaches. Stress is the other obvious cause of headaches. Under stress, we tend to naturally tense our necks, shoulders, and jaws and voila! Headaches.

These headaches are often felt at the base of the skull and/or over the middle of the eyebrows, and sometimes behind the eye.  Tension from jaw clenching can be felt around the temple and ear and in the jaw.

Stretch! Exercise! Acupuncture! We have an amazing track record of being able to help you release this type of tension quite easily. In our experience, acupuncture works a bit like physical therapy to help you retrain these tension patterns in your body. It’s also worth trying to improve your posture when sitting at your desk, however, we prime our patients with tools to use that can help ease these bouts of tension and pain.

Hormonal

Hence, why women tend to have more headaches than men. Both estrogen and progesterone play key roles in regulating the menstrual cycle and may also affect headache-related chemicals in the head. Hormonal headaches tend to occur during peaks (ovulation, when estrogen and progesterone levels are at their peak) or troughs (near menstruation, with levels at their lowest). Women that experience these menstrual headaches or migraines tend to be sensitive to fluxes in estrogen and progesterone, and likely also experience PMS, breast tenderness and heavy, painful periods.

If you are affected by headaches during your menstrual cycle, take note of when they occur to better pinpoint which phase of your cycle you may be experiencing imbalances. At Centered: Richmond, we are always looking to understand the root cause in order to work towards correcting it. We’ve seen a huge number of women find significant relief by incorporating acupuncture and Chinese herbs into their lifestyle.

Inflammation (especially in the nerves)/Migraines

While the cause of migraines isn’t well understood, research seems to point towards inflammation and nerve irritation. Nerves may become inflamed due to poor diet, stress and chronic tension in an area with limited blood flow, causing a cascade of chemical events in the body that leads to migraines.

Here, we work with patients in order to figure out what risk factors they have that might be contributing to nerve inflammation so that we can work towards reducing that specific irritant. It’s pretty amazing to see how powerful acupuncture can be to help treat inflammation, in conjunction with lifestyle changes and Chinese herbs. Acupuncture for headaches, in this case, is typically very successful.

Diet + GI Health

You may have heard about the “gut/brain connection” and how certain foods affect how we feel; however, most patients that we see are completely unaware of how diet may contribute to dis-ease in the body. It begs the need to better educate people on the relationship between the two, and that specific food may be a headache trigger for those of you suffering from migraines. We don’t want to burst your bubble, but chocolate is sometimes cited as a migraine trigger.

These days, we tend to eat our meals so quickly that, in between meetings and errands and so forth we don’t allow ourselves the time to process how we feel afterward. And then later, when a headache appears and we wonder where it came from we don’t make the connection (i.e. an intolerance, sensitivity or allergy). If ignored over time, this may cause increased inflammation elsewhere in the body (like gophers popping up everywhere in a game of Whack-A-Mole). We tend to blame it on age or something else dismissive, but the majority of the issues may be largely rooted in what we eat.

This reminds me of my friend’s father, a wise restauranteur, who says “Each meal is really two meals. The first meal is the food itself. Was it good? The second meal is about how it made you feel after.” Most of us have good first meals, but bad second meals. We must take the time to understand how our food makes us feel so that we are having delicious second meals, too!

A visit to the clinic would be appropriate here if you suspect that you have some longstanding GI health issues and headaches. We can look together at your diet, and track the foods you eat alongside your symptoms with a “Diet Diary” to explore whether or not you are having specific food triggers. We can also give you Chinese herbs and acupuncture to support GI function and reduce any chronic inflammation.


If you are struggling with pesky headaches or migraines and have questions about how acupuncture may be helpful for you, please feel free to contact us at the office at (804) 234-3843.  If you’re ready to schedule online, you can do so here.

If you are looking for help, and would like to find out if you are a good candidate for services, we offer COMPLIMENTARY consultations. You have absolutely nothing to lose.