Article by our Collaborator writer :

Marianne Pierce

Everyone experiences a headache at one point or another in their lives, but for chronic headache sufferers, the toll it takes on their lives is often crushing. In this article, different kinds of headaches and migraines will be evaluated and treatment options will be discussed. From there, a discussion: how can health care practitioners take a holistic approach to recurrent, treatment-resistant headaches and what role does acupuncture play in their treatment?


The Trouble With Headaches


Headaches are, at best, unpleasant, and at worst, debilitating. Many of us are fortunate enough to experience headaches very rarely, and when we do experience them, over-the-counter medications are sufficient to dull the pain until the headache passes. This solution isn’t practical for chronic sufferers; people with particularly intense headaches may find that over-the-counter drugs don’t do enough. They may believe they have no alternative but to turn to stronger drugs, like opiates. At the same time, healthcare practitioners are trying to limit the number of powerful painkillers they’re prescribing. Those who do find that over-the-counter medications work for them are still in danger – there’s a condition known as medication overuse headache, and by using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) more than 15 times a month can actually give you headaches. 


That brings us to another serious problem with the treatment of chronic headaches; sometimes, it’s next to impossible to figure out what’s causing them. Tension headaches, the most common type, can be caused by stress, fatigue, caffeine withdrawal, and other factors like changes in the weather, hormones, and certain smells. Many debilitating migraines seem to be caused by hormonal changes regarding serotonin and estrogen. That said, migraines may also be triggered by alcohol, MSG, emotional stress, and more.


There’s a wide variety of other factors that might cause headaches as well as a number of headache types that haven’t even been touched upon in this article yet (cluster headaches, for example). There are over 300 different types of headaches but only about 10% of them have well-understood causes. Your headaches might be from tension you carry in other parts of your face. You might need a night guard to prevent teeth clenching and grinding, which can cause soreness in the jaw that could contribute to headaches. You might require glasses to prevent eye strain, another possible cause of headaches. Even if you’ve exhausted your options from dietary changes to treating other medical problems, you might still have headaches. How should healthcare practitioners tackle this complex problem?


How Acupuncture Works In Holistic Headache Treatment


Having established that there are hundreds of types of headaches, that their causes aren’t always well understood, and that traditional painkillers are not always the safest or most effective method of combating them, it’s clear that a multifaceted, holistic solution could be helpful.


When constructing such an approach, healthcare professionals will consider the needs of the individual patient. Are you tossing and turning all night, unable to sleep? Fatigue can trigger headaches so you may need to improve your sleep habits and a sleep specialist may be consulted. Do particular foods trigger your headaches? You may need to change your diet and a dietician may be consulted. Do you have tension in your neck, face, or shoulders? You may need to change your exercise routines and consult with a physiotherapist.


In a fantasy world where we could all change our fundamental habits at the drop of a hat, and visiting medical professionals regularly was easy to fit into a routine, this would all be well and good. As it is, though, it can be exceedingly difficult to put in all of this work while dealing with excruciating pain. That’s why it’s essential to find methods of managing the pain while trying to remedy its root cause.


This is what makes acupuncture such an excellent part of a holistic remedy for headaches and migraines. Acupuncture is incredibly safe for treating headaches. What’s more, it’s quite effective: a 2012 metastudy showed that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, including chronic headaches. What’s more, there’s evidence that acupuncture treatments actually decrease the frequency of migraine recurrence


Exactly why acupuncture is so effective at treating chronic pain and headaches is unclear, but there are some clues to be analyzed. There’s evidence that acupuncture may improve pain by stimulating changes to serotonin metabolism. As discussed earlier, serotonin seems to be a factor in the frequency and severity of headaches. This may provide some insight into how acupuncture affects headaches.


Acupuncture, then, is safe, effective, and has minimal negative interactions with other treatments. Any hesitation to recommending acupuncture may stem from a lack of knowledge about its efficacy or from reluctance to recommend a treatment without understanding its underlying mechanisms. When looking for a holistic solution to a problem, it’s important to maintain a dialogue with all relevant medical professionals. If you’re thinking about acupuncture, bring it up with your doctor, pharmacist, and anyone else on your medical care team.


When conditions have a glut of possible causes and when they seem resistant to one particular type of treatment, it’s important to try a number of different solutions. If possible, try a few together. Acupuncture is a really effective choice because it relieves pain, reduces recurrence, and can be safely used as one piece of a holistic strategy. Experiencing chronic headaches? Give acupuncture a try.