How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Treat Headaches or Cluster Migraines?

by Lygia Angel, MSOM, LAc

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, all disease is treated as an imbalance unique to the individual experiencing it. No two people are treated the same way even if they have the same disease. There are many reasons people get headaches or migraines, and there are many ways to treat headaches, depending on that person’s constitution. Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to treat root causes, rather than symptoms; in other words, the treatments are not palliative–they do not kill pain temporarily. Instead, we determine what imbalance in the person’s constitution is causing the headache, and we retrain the body to no longer respond that way. Determining a Person’s Constitution Practitioners of Chinese medicine use several diagnostic tools to determine a person’s constitution. We look at the whole person’s total body pattern. We look at the skin color to see whether it is red, yellow, pale, or gray. We also look to see the consistency of the skin – whether it is dry or has edema. Patterns of the hair, eyes, ears, and musculoskeletal system are all taken into consideration. The bowels, urinary, digestive, sleep, and emotional patterns are analyzed as well. A major tool of diagnosing a person’s constitution is looking at the tongue and feeling the pulses. The tongue in Chinese Medicine is divided into several segments that represent the internal workings of the body. By looking at the size, shape, color, coat, and consistency of the tongue a practitioner can tell the internal workings of the qi (energy), fluids, organs, blood, and emotions. By feeling the pulses, a practitioner can also determine the condition of these areas. Three pulse positions on each wrist represent the different organs, and the practitioner feels these organ pulses to determine the depth of imbalance. A practitioner also feels for the consistency and rhythmic pattern of the pulse. Together these diagnostic inquiries present a pattern of symptoms, when put together, that make up a person’s constitution. Diagnosing Headache and Migraine Patterns in Traditional Chinese Medicine In Traditional Chinese Medicine headaches are classified in many ways. Some headaches occur from external conditions and other from internal constitutional imbalances. The location of the headache also determines the kind of headache a person is experiencing. The accompanying testimonial is from a client who was suffering from headaches that started in the right eye, then spread across the face. In western medicine this is typically known as a cluster migraine. In Chinese medicine, aching in the pupil of the eye is seen as a liver blood deficiency headache. The client’s constitutional signs – tongue, pulse, medical history, and present functions of the body – also confirmed that her flow of liver blood was not sufficiently reaching her head and therefore causing headaches. Testimonial from Denise Owen, RN MSN and Nursing instructor at MATC “I have suffered with headaches for much of the past 6 years. I would get them monthly, the pain starting in my right eye then spreading into my face and head. The pain was usually accompanied by a slightly droopy eyelid and nausea and would last 4-5 days. Over the counter meds had no effect. Prescription meds provided only limited relief and left me feeling groggy. I spent lots of time each month lying down in a darkened room with a cool cloth on my head… “Needless to say, the headaches affected my quality of life… Being in pain so much of the time left me tired, irritable, and physically and emotionally drained. My physician suggested that I try acupuncture. While I appreciated her open minded attitude toward Eastern medicine, I admit that as a practicing nurse of almost 20 years that I was skeptical… “I’m not sure what I expected from the first treatment. Unlike some people, I did not see immediate results. Then Lygia suggested a blend of oriental herbs that might be helpful. The first type had no effect on me so she switched to another formula and we continued treatment. The change was dramatic. I went from having headaches 8- 10 days a month to being almost headache free. I actually went for over two months without a headache and have since then had only an occasional mild headache, with relief obtained by over the counter meds. “Acupuncture has also been effective in treating the rosacea I also have. My skin has become relatively clear, with decreased redness, blotches, and blemishes. People cannot even tell I have rosacea anymore. “I have been thrilled with my results and have recommended acupuncture to my friends and family. I have gained a new perspective on acupuncture and now see the value in both traditional and alternative treatment modalities.” Lygia Angel has a Master’s of Science in Oriental Medicine and is a Licensed Acupuncturist for the Chiropractic Company. She see clients in Glendale, Shorewood, and Brown Deer. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 6 – July 2002