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5 Common Headache Causes And How To Fix Them

One of the issues we see more frequently here in the clinic is headaches. While there are many causes and treatments for this ailment, here are my top five:

Dehydration

Well, it would seem obvious that the way to treat dehydration is to drink water, but there are some things that can hinder getting that done:

Remembering to drink. This is one of those times I like to use technology for assistance. You can set a regular reminder or use the timer on your smartphone or computer (or even use a kitchen timer if you don’t have those!) every 30-60 minutes to help you remember to take a drink.

Not liking the taste. I hear this one a lot, so I say spruce it up! Add some fresh lemon or lime juice, cut fruit, or get fancy with cucumber and mint or some ginger. Or get yourself a Soda Stream to make your own bubbly water at home. (I would just stay away from their artificial flavors.)

Needing electrolytes. Sometimes, you need to add some electrolytes to help you absorb better. I don’t recommend drinking electrolyte replacement drinks all day, but 8-12oz a day could be helpful. I like plain coconut water or a Skratch Labs mix, or to make my own:

  • 8 ounces water (warm or at room temperature)

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • a pinch of salt

  • 2 tablespoons or more of honey or maple syrup

  • A little lemon juice to taste

Sinus Headaches

This is a time of year when many people experience sinus headaches. Between allergies, the tail end of cold season and weather changes, sinus pain can be a doozy. Here are a few things that can help:

Sinus rinses. Either with a Neti pot or bottle, getting those sinuses rinsed out and hydrated can go a long way to reducing headaches.

Eating right. What you eat can have a strong effect on the health of your sinuses. Both dairy and sugar are big contributors to sinus problems.

Acupuncture and herbs. This is an area where our medicine really excels. We can look for and address underlying causes, such as allergies or a gut imbalance, while treating the symptom of the headache. Often, we will also use some moxa with this type of headache to help treat those underlying causes.

Tension/Stress Headaches

Our current lifestyle can wreak havoc on our bodies, often leading to headaches. Here are a couple of ideas to reduce that tension and stress:

Stretching. Gentle stretching of the upper back and shoulders can reduce the tension in those areas, reducing the referral pain that can go into the back of your head, or up and over into your forehead.

Meditation. Starting a meditation practice, even just a few minutes a day, can help bring down your stress levels and reduce headaches.

Trigger Point Acupuncture. Also known as dry needling, we can address knots and tightness in the neck and shoulders that contribute to headaches. We follow up this type of needling with a complete acupuncture treatment to address the underlying stress as well.

Hormone Related Headaches

Hormones can be a complicated matter, but there are a few things you can do right off the bat to get things back in order:

Eating right. Too much processed foods, sugar or soy can really throw your hormones out of whack. Filling up on vegetables and organic/free range animal protein can help your body get back into balance.

Exercise. Getting that body moving, especially before your typical trigger time (but throughout the whole month, ideally) can help regulate hormones and reduce headaches.

Acupuncture and herbs. Again, TCM can address the underlying issue (hormone imbalance) while also relieving the symptom (hormones).

Hangovers

I’m afraid to admit that I treated this a lot while I was in acupuncture school. I certainly had some friends who liked to have fun. Anyway, here are a few tools:

Water. Drink lots of water during your night (or day) out - a glass for each alcoholic drink you consume.

Electrolyte replacement. Use any of the options listed above - coconut water, skratch labs or make your own. Drink at bedtime and when you wake up.

Curcumin. This is a great natural anti-inflammatory  that may reduce the elevated number of cytokines released after drinking too much. Take a dose at bedtime and another upon waking.

Acupuncture. Make sure to do your partying on Friday and come see us Saturday morning!

Herbs. TCM formulas such as Curing Pills and Bao He Wan can make a dent in that hangover headache. Take them before bed and again in the morning.

Headaches can have all kinds of causes, but the good news is that most of them can be treated or avoided. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or if you need some help!

Headaches According to Chinese Medicine

Headaches are incredibly common and affect millions of people every year. To be exact, 45 million nationwide (according to ihateheadaches.org). That’s a staggering number! I also read on migraine.com that out of that many people, 18% of sufferers are women and 6% are men which is quite interesting. There could be tons of reasons why you have headaches, and it’s just a matter of getting to the bottom of what’s going on.

Like many ailments, our approach is similar: we do a full intake to try and understand where the headache is coming from. We ask questions like: Where is the pain? How long does it last? When does it happen? What helps or hurts? Etc, etc. There are two things going on when someone suffers from headaches: the root and the branch. The root refers to the reason WHY the headache is occuring. The branch refers to the actual pain you experience. From there, we treat based on what the imbalance is that we see happening in your system.

Below are some common Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis for each of Karen’s top 5 headache causes, along with treatments that usually help! That being said, not everyone fits into a cookie cutter diagnosis.  This is why we encourage you to get a full intake to see what might be most effective when treating your headaches specifically. We want to get to the bottom of what YOUR “root” diagnosis is and treat it appropriately! Here’s a few examples of the diagnoses we see with each main type:

  • Dehydration could be a “Qi Deficiency” or meaning there’s just not enough energy circulating through the body (because you haven’t had enough water) and its affecting the head! Surprise, surprise. In cases like this, we usually add in moxibustion (that smokey herb we burn) because it nourishes the system more.

  • Sinus headaches are usually aggravated by allergies, colds, the flu, things of that nature. Most of the time with sinus headaches, people usually experience pressure and fullness. We call this “damp” in TCM. Just as it sounds, there’s an accumulation of dampness, or phlegm, boogers, etc that won’t come out. In this sort of condition, we use needles in the face to help disperse that inflammation and fullness.

  • Tension Headaches are mostly related to what we call “Qi Stagnation” or when the energy flow in the body is getting stuck! Usually this occurs mostly in the neck and shoulders and can pull on the base of the skull, thus causing pain at the back of the head or temples. We use a lot of “trigger point therapy” for this type of headache. Meaning: when Karen and I get a muscle to twitch and release the hold its got on your body! Cupping is a great way to help with tension headaches as well.

  • Hormonal headaches. This one is so tricky to pin down just one diagnosis or even two. This is one of those headache categories that could easily have 10 or more different reasons they’re happening according to TCM. At the most basic level, we have to determine if your headaches are coming from a stagnant place or depleted place, so we know how to best to treat them! Rest assured, needles and/or moxa are involved. Or both!

  • Hangovers!! Hmm… can’t say that I treat this THAT often anymore. Usually people aren’t super pumped to come to acupuncture when they’re hungover, but if they did, it would help!! Treatment for hangovers definitely falls under the “stagnation” or “damp” category, so just your average needling will do! Added bonus: you get an acupuncture nap to help sleep it off.

  • Is there a headache for wedding planning??? Just kidding. But for the record that falls under “Qi stagnation!”

If you suffer from headaches, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor or Naturopath if they are moderate to severe in nature - just to rule out anything serious. In the meantime, schedule an appointment if headaches are a problem for you or a family member or friend! We can help with the pain and eventually harmonize the pattern to make them go away completely.

(303)593-0731

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