Our Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, Tom Kiroplis, offers an effective and proven combination of Herbs and Acupuncture for migraine sufferers.
We have seen clients who have experienced migraines for several years, and within a period of only 6 to 12 treatments, they have been able to completely eliminate their migraines or reduce their frequency and intensity by 70 to 100 percent.
What are Migraine Headaches?
Migraines are painful, pulsating headaches that last from hours to even days. They can occur at any age and are more prevalent among women than men. Migraines may be so painful that one is unable to follow a normal routine or do usual activities.
In Canada, the prevalence of migraines exceeds that of osteoarthritis, diabetes and asthma. Recent lifetime migraine prevalence in women (25% in 2004; 26% in 2006) and in men (10% in 1992; 8% in 1994) suggest that more than three million women and one million men in Canada have migraines. Approximately 60% of migraine sufferers have one or more headache attacks per month, and 25% of sufferers have attacks at least once a week (Canadian Headache Society, News Release, Nov 5, 2007).
Typical symptoms of a migraine include : a throbbing headache on one side of the head, nausea and vomiting, photophobia, fever, chills, aching, and sweating. Factors that can make a migraine worse, include : activity, light, noise, and odors. The pain from a migraine can also move from one side of the head to the other, or may be felt on both sides at the same time. Symptoms my vary from one person to another.Some people experience an aura before the migraine begins. When this occurs, one may see a halo of light around objects, wavy lines, or flashing lights. Additionally, they may feel tingling or numbness in their hands, arms, or face. The aura usually starts about 30 minutes before the headache.
How are migraines diagnosed?
The Western medical diagnosis of migraines is usually based on the signs and symptoms experienced. Lab tests may not be required, however may be requisitioned if the doctor feels that symptoms are caused by another disease.
How are migraines treated?
People usually manage their migraines with over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Brand names include Advil, Motrin, and Aleve.
If over-the-counter medicine does not work, a doctor may prescribe stronger medication that may stop the migraine as it starts manifesting.
What to Do When A Migraine Begins
When a migraine is coming on, it is recommended that the over-the-counter or prescribed medication be taken immediately, rather than waiting for the migraine to get worse.
The medication should be taken exactly as prescribed by the doctor regarding dosage and frequency.
The patient should try to relax and rest in a quiet, dark room or go to sleep. Any activities such as watching television or reading should be avoided. Application of a cold pack or cool cloth on the painful area is also recommended.
If the first course of treatment described above does not work, a doctor or a TCM practitioner should be consulted. It may take time to find what works best for each patient.
Some people, especially those who have tried conventional medicine without any success, chose to try alternative treatments.
Acupuncture often helps to significantly reduce the pain during an episode of migraines and even helps decrease the number of migraines that may be experienced over a period of time.
Care must be taken when using migraine medication. Taking it too often may cause a dependency, so that when the medication is stopped, a new headache can manifest. This is called a rebound headache. If headache medication is required more than 2 days a week, or if more than 3 headaches are experienced in a month, it may be a good idea to speak to a doctor or visit a TCM practitioner.
Can the frequency of migraines be reduced?
There are certain things that are known to cause headaches. These are called “triggers”. Avoiding these triggers may reduce the frequency of migraines. Common triggers include chocolate, red wine, cheese, MSG, strong odors, not eating, stress and anxiety, weather or temperature changes, and poor sleeping habits.
It is often beneficial for migraine sufferers to track their migraines by recording how often they come in contact with potential triggers. This may help pinpoint what aggravates a migraine and help reduce the frequency of episodes.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Migraines
Headaches are one of the most common conditions seen in many clinical practices, with migraines being at the top of the list. Acupuncture is one of the most common and most effective treatments for migraines.
In Chinese Medicine, the head is where all the Yang channels of the hand and foot meet, and the Qi (energy) and blood all flow upward to the head. Both external pathogenic inuences and internal disharmonies may cause headaches by causing a stagnation of Qi and blood to the head.
External pathogenic influences for migraines
Generally speaking, a headache with an acute onset is usually caused by an invasion of external pathogens. Wind is the most predominant external pathogen and it often combines with one or more of other pathogenic factors, e.g. cold, heat or dampness.
Internal disharmonies causing migraines
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the main disease mechanism of migraine headaches is the disharmony of the liver channel. The liver is responsible for the free flow of Qi and blood in the whole body, which is necessary for one’s emotional and physical health. Too much stress, anger or frustration may cause the Qi to move sluggishly, which may cause the Liver Qi to stagnate. If Qi stagnates for a prolonged period of time, this may influence the circulation in the head, causing stagnation of Qi and blood in that area, resulting in a headache. This kind of headache is quite common.
A bad diet is another common cause of migraines. Eating too much spicy or hot food or drinking too much alcohol may cause stomach heat, or even stomach ache. This heat burns down the Stomach Yin meridian which disturbs the Qi circulation. This, in turn, can cause stomach pain and headaches.
Similarily, a diet rich in fatty, salty and sweet foods can also damage the Spleen’s transportation and transformation function. Damp Phlegm consequently forms and this obstructs the free flow of Qi in the channels, and a headache often follows.
Deficiency of Qi and Blood is another cause of migraine headaches. Qi deficiency headaches are due to Qi failing to ascend to the head and fill the orifices. Blood deficiency headaches are due to a lack of blood reaching the head and nourishing the brain. Qi and Blood deficiencies are often caused by chronic diseases, overwork, excessive bleeding during menstruation, or blood loss resulting from trauma or an operation.
Deficiency of Kidney Essence is another common cause of migraines. It can be caused by a hereditary defect, excessive sex, and chronic illness. It is also observed in women who have given births multiple times. It may manifest with deficiency of Kidney Yin or Kidney Yang, as the Essence has both a Yin and Yang aspect. An individual usually experiences a sensation of emptiness of the head with this type of headache. This type of headache also could affect the bladder channel which would affect the nape (back of the neck).
Blood stagnation is also a cause of migraine headaches. Physical trauma such as being in a car accident, suffering a stroke or undergoing inappropriate surgery may produce blood stagnation. A headache caused by blood stagnation is characterized by a fixed stabbing pain and it is often aggravated at night.
Treatment based on Differentiation
It is important to understand the key points for differentiation of a headache, so special attention should be paid to the quality and location of the headache, as well as to the factors that may alleviate or aggravate it. All factors affecting a migraine are seen as an excess or deficiency of energy associated with an organ as far as the Chinese Medicine perspective goes. This is vastly different from the Western Medical model. When one begins to understand the theories and “language” of Traditional Chinese Medicine, one can clearly see how effective it can be to help cure a variety of ailments that don’t always have a real solution when tackled from a pharmaceutical perspective.
Differentiation of the quality of a headache
The following is a list of possible causes and corresponding symptoms describing the quality of a headache:
- A headache with a dull sensation often indicates a “Deficiency” condition, while a headache with a sharp pain indicates an “Excessive” condition.
- A headache which comes suddenly tends to indicate an “Exterior” invasion, while a headache with a gradual onset tends to indicate an “Interior” disharmony.
- Deficiency of Qi and blood or Deficiency of Kidney Essence often result in a dull headache.
- Stagnation of Liver Qi, Flaring-up of Liver Fire, Hyperactivity of Liver Yang, Stomach Fire or Toxic Fire often result in a sharp headache.
- Accumulation of Damp Phlegm usually causes a headache with a feeling of heaviness. When the orifices are blocked by damp phlegm, clear Yang-Qi ascends to the head and the turbid Qi cannot descend,resulting in stagnation of Qi and blood in the head, causing a headache to occur.
- A pulsating, throbbing, bursting headache is usually a result of a “Liver Disharmony”, such as flaring-up of Liver Fire or Hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
- A headache with a feeling of distension could also be caused by invasion of Wind-Heat, flaring-up of Stomach-Fire, or Toxic-Fire.
- A headache with a pronounced stiffness below the occiput (bottom of the skull) usually indicates an exterior invasion of Wind-Cold, and usually occurs suddenly.
- A headache which is chronic in nature, and manifests with pronounced stiffness or a “pulling sensation” below the occiput, usually indicates hyperactivity of Liver-Yang with the formation of Liver-Wind.
- A headache with a hollow sensation or with a sensation of emptiness of the head indicates deficiency of Kidney-Essence.
Differentiation based on the location of pain areas on the head
Top of the Head – This type of headache is usually caused by disorders of the liver. It is also called a vertex headache. The liver channel has an internal branch which reaches the top of the head. This type of headache is a result of Liver-Blood deficiency or hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
Deficiency of a Liver-Blood type headache is dull in nature and hyperactivity of a Liver Yang type headache is sharp in character. Other symptoms of deficiency of Liver-Blood include aggravation during menses, tiredness, poor vision, loss of hair, a pale tongue and a “thready” pulse. Other symptoms of hyperactivity of Liver-Yang include irritability, distension in the head, dizziness, a red tongue and a rapid, wiry pulse.
Back of the Head – The back of the head is also called the occipital area. Occipital headaches that are acute are usually caused by the invasion of external factors, such as Wind, Cold and Dampness. These external pathogens attack the bladder channel and obstruct circulation, resulting in pain. If the occipital headache is chronic, it is usually a result of accumulation of damp phlegm, deficiency of Kidney-Essence or hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
Occipital headaches caused by exterior factors, present with additional symptoms such as fever, runny nose, aversion to cold, muscle pain, a thin tongue coating and a superficial pulse.
Occipital headaches caused by an accumulation of Damp-Phlegm, present with additional symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, a feeling of heaviness, a greasy tongue coating and a slippery pulse.
Occipital headaches caused by a Deficiency of Kidney-Essence, present with additional symptoms such as tiredness, poor concentration, lower back pain, a thin tongue coating and a thready and weak pulse.
Occipital headaches caused by hyperactivity of Liver-Yang, present with additional symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, a feeling of distension in the head, dizziness, a red tongue and a rapid wiry pulse.
Sides of the Head – A headache at the side of the head is usually caused by a disorder of the Gall Bladder and Liver. This type of headache is often chronic. Liver-Qi stagnation, flaring up of Liver-Fire, hyperactivity of Liver-Yang, or Damp Heat in the Gall Bladder are the most common causes.
A headache caused by accumulation of Damp-Heat is often dull or heavy in nature. If the headache is caused by Liver-Qi stagnation, flaring up of Liver-Fire, or hyperactivity of Liver-Yang, it is often sharp and throbbing in nature.
Often, these types of headaches are located on one side only and are usually caused by flaring up of Liver-Fire or by hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
The Forehead – A headache in this area of the head is usually caused by a disharmony in the stomach. A dull pain in the forehead is usually caused by Stomach-Qi deficiency whereas a sharp pain experienced in the forehead is usually caused by flaring up of Stomach-Fire. Finally, a heavy sensation with a dull pain in the forehead is usually caused by Damp-Phlegm.
Behind the Eyes – This type of headache is often a result of a Liver pathology. It may include deficiency of Liver-Blood, stagnation of Liver-Qi, stagnation of Blood, flaring up of Liver-Fire and hyperactivity of Liver-Yang. This type of headache is usually associated with a migraine and it often occurs on one side only, seldom both.
Types of headaches behind the eyes include :
- Deficiency of Liver-Blood – often dull
- Stagnation of Qi type – distending in nature
- Stagnation of blood – usually stabbing in nature
- Flaring up of Liver Fire – the pain is burning and throbbing.
- Hyperactivity of Liver-Yang – usually sharp, throbbing and often quite severe.
The Whole Head – A headache experienced in the whole head can be acute or chronic. If the headache is acute, it is often a result of an exterior invasion of Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat or Wind-Dampness. Symptoms include a sharp constant pain, fever, aversion to cold, muscular pain, a runny nose, a thin tongue coating and a superficial pulse.
Conversely, if the headache is chronic in nature, it is often caused by a deficiency of Kidney-Essence. There is not enough “essence” to nourish the brain. This type of headache is often dull and intermittent in nature and a person experiencing this may feel an empty feeling in the head.
Differentiation of other factors affecting Migraines
There are a variety of other factors affecting characteristics of a Migraine:
- A headache due to Liver Fire, hyperactivity of Liver-Yang or flaring up of Stomach Fire is often aggravated in hot weather.
- A headache due to Deficiency of Yang-Qi or Deficiency of Blood is often aggravated in cold weather.
- A headache due to Accumulation of Damp-Phlegm is often aggravated in humid weather.
- A headache aggravated by stress and improved with relaxation is usually due to stagnation of Liver-Qi.
- A headache aggravated by anger and improved with relaxation is usually due to flaring up of Liver-Fire or hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
- A headache that worsens with fear is usually due to a deficiency of Kidney-Essence.
- A headache that worsens with worry is usually due to a deficiency of Spleen Qi.
- A headache that is aggravated by sexual activity is usually due to a deficiency of Kidney-Essence.
- A headache that improves after sexual activity is probably due to Liver-Qi Stagnation or flaring up of Liver-Fire.
- Headaches that are aggravated by eating fatty, greasy foods, sweets or dairy products are often due to an accumulation of Damp-Phlegm.
- Headaches that are aggravated by eating too many pungent foods or drinking too much alcohol are often due to flaring up of Liver-Fire or Stomach-Fire.
- Headaches that improve after eating cold food are often due to flaring up of Stomach-Fire.
- Headaches that improve after eating warm food are often due to Deficiency of Qi and Blood
- Headaches that improve with lying down are often due to Deficiency of Qi and Blood or of Kidney-Essence.
- Headaches that are aggravated by lying down and improved with moving around are usually due to an “excess” condition.
- A headache that is aggravated before or during menstruation is usually due to Liver-Qi Or Liver-Blood Stagnation, or hyperactivity of Liver-Yang.
- A headache that worsens at the end of menstruation, is usually due to a deficiency of Blood or Kidney-Essence.
- Headaches that improve with pressure are often due to a deficiency of Qi and Blood or a deficiency of Kidney Essence.
- Headaches that worsen with pressure are often due to an “excess” condition.