Oh, My Aching Head

Today I'm going to deviate from spooky Halloween stories and tales of pranks gone awry, and get back to what this blog is really all about: educating the public about acupuncture. During my intake, I always ask about headaches. If a patient is prone to severe headaches that interfere with his life, he will offer up lots of information. Otherwise, he will say that he never gets headaches. There never seems to be any middle ground. I always respond with, "okay, when was the last time you had one?" You would be amazed at the percentage of patients that answer with "this week," or, "actually, I have one right now!" Aren't people funny?

It isn't their fault, though. We are programmed to forget pain that isn't severe. And this is a very good thing; if our minds didn't work this way, we would waste entire days lamenting about stubbed toes and butt cramps. If our pain is below a certain threshold, we simply disregard it, and it ceases to exist to us.

This does tend to make my job more difficult. These little creaks and issues may not bother you much, but they are more keys to understanding you as a whole. So, even if you are the strong and silent type, you can let all that go once you are in my office, and complain away! The more I know, the better off your treatment will be.

Just your headaches alone can tell me so much about your overall state of imbalance. We begin with differentiating between "excess" and "deficiency" headaches. An excess type of headache would be severe, throbbing, and worse with rest. There is way too much qi or heat up in the head, so moving around would actually make it feel a bit better. A deficiency headache, on the other hand, would be better with rest and feel worse with movement. It might feel better when you are holding or rubbing your head. This type would get worse as the day goes on, and might improve after eating, and you might also feel "empty-headed" or dizzy.

Headaches can arise from internal or external factors. The most common external factor is Wind. A Wind Cold headache is usually accompanied by symptoms of a cold: chills, sore throat, runny nose. A Wind Heat headache is usually more severe than one stemming from Wind Cold. This would be your typical "splitting" headache. You might also feel hot and flushed, or run a fever. If this headache is coming from Wind Damp, it would feel like a towel is wrapped around your head. The pain would be joined by a muzzy-headed sensation.

Internal factors include Qi or Blood Deficiency, Heat, Fire, or Phlegm. Fire would lead to the most severe headaches, the type that is pounding or splitting. Both Fire and Heat headaches usually manifest with other Heat symptoms, such as red eyes, hot flushed face, and anger. A Phlegm headache would be similar to a Damp headache; you might feel fuzzy, heavy, or have a sense of oppression in your chest. The location of the headache can also point to where your imbalances lie. A frontal headache is linked to the Stomach and Large Intestine. (Sinus headaches are also connected with the Stomach channel.) A headache on the sides of the head can suggest Gallbladder issues. Pain at the very top of the head is Liver, and occipital headaches are linked to the Small Intestine and Bladder channels. Pain that is all over the head can be a Kidney issue.