Headaches - common causes and how acupuncture can help
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
If you suffer from regular headaches, you don’t need me to tell you how unpleasant they can be. Unfortunately, modern lifestyles do seem to make headaches more common.
Headaches can range in frequency, type and severity. For some that means the occasional but very severe headache, for others, headaches are quite literally a constant pain which makes your days very difficult. And there are those that suffer debilitating migraines that can quite literally knock you out of action for several days.
Different types of headache
So, what counts as a headache? Well they can be very varied and include throbbing, unrelenting or intermittent pain, a feeling of intense pressure or stabbing pains. They can affect many different parts of the head from the face, temples, brow, skull to the whole head. They can also cause feelings of nausea and fatigue.
Particularly unpleasant but common types of headaches include:
· Tension headaches. These feel like your head is throbbing or has been placed in a vice which is slowly tightening. These are common and often thought of as "everyday" headaches. They’re not normally bad enough to stop you going about your day but can make things very difficult. They are understood to occur in up to 80% of the UK adult population and are more prevalent in women.
· Cluster headaches, which often can occur on and off over a period of time and can cause severe pain. They often include intense pain around one eye and can include other symptoms.
· Migraines. Migraines are very intense and often include acute throbbing on one or both sides of your head. They sometimes include other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light, sound or smell. They can last for anything from a couple of hours to days and normally stop you in your tracks.
· Hormonal headaches. As the name suggests these might be as a result of changes in hormone levels like such as serotonin and oestrogen.
The causes of headaches
Headaches are caused by a whole host of different things which include (but certainly aren’t limited to) stress, poor posture, a common cold or other illness, lack of sleep, dehydration, muscle or nerve tension, genetics or hormones. They can also be caused by certain trigger foods, caffeine, the weather and general lifestyle issues, like staring at a screen all day, or wearing the wrong prescription glasses.
Treatment for headaches
As always, as a first port of call, you should consult your doctor if you have developed regular or persistent headaches that are a concern. This will help eliminate any underlying issues and if appropriate your doctor can prescribe medication.
However, if you know your headaches are part of your everyday life, it can be really tempting to “just live” with them or worse still, to over rely on pain relief medication.
More natural headache treatments
If you’re regular reader of my blog, you’ll know I’m always keen to help you explore more natural ways of dealing with pain. And the first step when it comes to headaches, is to assess your lifestyle by taking a long hard look at all the possible causes that I’ve listed above: stress, caffeine intake, screen time, alcohol or smoking, diet, weight, your level of exercise, etc.
Sometimes, little changes can make a difference. If you sleep with your bedroom window shut, for example, does opening it at night help? If you work in an air-conditioned building, does getting out for a quick walk outside at lunch help? If you spend a lot of time bent over a screen, can you find a little time each day to do some stretches and rest your eyes and neck? What about trying a regular massage to help relaxation and reduce tension in muscles?
You may also want to reconsider your diet. It might be worth keeping a food diary to see whether there is any connection between a particular food stuff and your headaches. Check whether you are drinking enough water each day.
Again, if you read my blogs regularly, you’ll know that acupuncture is a treatment based on ancient Chinese medicine. It involves the insertion of tiny needles into certain areas of the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes. It’s my experience that acupuncture can help with the treatment of headaches and the science backs me up.
The science behind using acupuncture to treat headaches
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for both chronic tension-type headaches and migraines. As you might expect The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) have done their own research into how effective acupuncture can be as a form of treatment.
In respect of tension style headaches, the BAcC research has shown acupuncture may help to relieve tension-type headache in four specific ways, namely by:
· increasing endorphins to help to combat any emotionally poor state of mind
· stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, leading to the release of endorphins and other
neurohumoral factors, and thereby changing the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord
· reducing inflammation
· increasing local microcirculation which helps with the dispersal of swelling.