The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have now recommended acupuncture as a viable treatment method for tension-type headaches and migraine.
Information released by NICE today reported MEDICATION OVERUSE is one of the most COMMON CAUSES of headaches affecting about 1 in 50 people. Women are five times as likely to suffer with these.
NICE conclude that acupuncture is the only proven method to prevent tension-type headaches and migraine and that doctors should prescribe it.
Some of the press coverage on the new NICE guidelines
But how exactly does acupuncture work to treat headaches and migraine?
In Chinese Medicine there are lots of different causes of headaches, but let's discuss a couple of common causes.
1. HEADACHES CAUSED BY TENSION (Back and sides of head)
Overwork. Poor posture. Lack of exercise. Stress. What do these all lead to? TENSION.
Stress, overwork and lack of exercise in Chinese Medicine generally affect the Liver and Gallbladder, of which the associated emotion is ANGER. Long-term MEDICATION USE also affects the LIVER.
This can lead to a very common condition we call LIVER QI STAGNATION. This means the Qi (energy) of the Liver stops circulating around the body as effectively as it should, and is often reflected in the GALLBLADDER MERIDIAN (energetic pathway). This leads to a build up of TENSION across the SHOULDERS, NECK and SIDES OF THE HEAD. You can see the first part of the Gallbladder meridian in the diagram below:
Treatment of these headaches is actually very simple. Ultra-fine needles are inserted into specific points on the Gallbladder meridian, in particular I like to use GB20 and GB21 as shown in the above diagram. These points work like magic with regards to treating tension-type headaches.
What these points also do is have a direct action on the MUSCLES. The particular way that I work is to use the acupuncture needles to release TRIGGER POINTS. These are tender areas in the muscles that will often produce pain elsewhere in the body. For example, there is a trigger point In the upper trapezius closely located or directly located to acupuncture point GB21 which if active will produce a pain pattern similar to the shape of the Gallbladder channel shown above. If this point is needled in a certain way I am able to release the trigger point by causing a MYOFASCIAL RELEASE, meaning the fascia (surround) of the muscle is stimulated and causes the muscle to jump or spasm, realigning the muscle fibres and causing the muscle to relax.
Before treating migraine, I first need to determine where it is coming from. It may well be REFERRED PAIN from TRIGGER POINTS located in the sternocleidomastoid muscle. As you can see from the diagram below, the points in the muscle can produce several PAIN PATTERNS (shown in red) and if this is the cause then I need to release these trigger points.
But many of the underlying causes of migraine are down to a condition known as LIVER YANG RISING. Again, note how the LIVER can be the main cause of MIGRAINE. With Liver Yang Rising, the Qi rises in a quick, almost violent fashion, going completely against its natural path. We call this REBELLIOUS QI.
The Rebellious Liver Qi again tends to be reflected in the Gallbladder meridian causing PAIN, VISUAL DISTURBANCES (the Liver opens into the eyes in Chinese Medicine) and NAUSEA. The nausea is due to the sudden surge of Rebellious Liver Qi invading and affecting the Qi of the STOMACH.
Treatment for classic migraine requires a much more subtle approach. As well as releasing any TRIGGER POINTS and using points on the upper GALLBLADDER CHANNEL, I need to use a series of UNDERLYING POINTS which will redress any INTERNAL IMBALANCE. Points are usually Liver or Gallbladder points located on the lower leg or feet, or points on the hand, but will VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON depending on what other imbalances are present.
LARGE INTESTINE 4
These are points that can be MASSAGED to reduce the pain of the headache. MRI RESEARCH has shown that when the point Large Intestine 4 is needled or strongly massaged it actually causes AREAS OF THE BRAIN to light up. These areas actually SWITCH OFF your receptors to pain. In China, they use Large Intestine 4 as a natural anaesthetic during Caesarian sanctions and even open heart surgery.
It's about time that the West finally realises the potential behind these tiny needles.
Well done NICE.