Teerawong “Kan” Kasiolarn, ND, LAc, MSAc, Dipl.Ac, (NCCAOM®), is a naturopathic doctor certified through the Naturopathic Licensing and Examination Board. He has additional certifications in acupuncture and integrative family medicine and is a member of the Inova Traditional Chinese Medicine Center.
Headaches are a pain. More than 20% of adult women and 10% of adult men in the United States report having experienced a migraine or severe headache in the past 3 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unfortunately, over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t always effective at keeping severe headaches under control. In some cases, they can even cause rebound headaches that make the problem worse.
Drugstore pain relievers aren’t the only solution for treating headaches, though. Many people find relief in the form of traditional Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture for Headache Treatment
Traditional Chinese medicine is a complementary health approach that blends ancient Chinese medical practice with modern medicine. It involves a variety of approaches, including herbal supplements, cupping, therapeutic massage and traditional dietary principles. One of the best-known elements of traditional Chinese medicine – and one that plays an important role in treating headaches – is acupuncture.
Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points of the body to restore balance to the flow of energy within the body. While we’re not entirely sure how it works, one theory holds that inserting needles dilates blood vessels, allowing more nutrients to flow to those areas of the body. Acupuncture might also stimulate the body to release anti-inflammatory chemicals that reduce swelling and promote healing.
What we do know is that acupuncture can provide profound relief for people with headaches. Among people who suffer occasional severe headaches, that relief can be immediate. In these patients, one session of acupuncture is often enough to ease the pain. In people with chronic headaches or migraines, however, treatment typically takes more time.
Migraine Treatment: Restoring Balance
Traditional Chinese medicine is all about finding balance. If you suffer from chronic headaches, something in your body is out of balance. To get to the root of the problem, we examine the whole person. And we often spend a lot of time talking about the patient’s health and lifestyle to understand what’s really going on.
The problem might be something external, such as a virus or a poor diet. Or it might be internal, such as a hormone imbalance or magnesium deficiency. I’ve seen patients suffering from chronic headaches who were simply dehydrated and needed to drink more water. Others have had allergies, mineral deficiencies or food sensitivities that had never been diagnosed.
Once we identify the source of the problem, we can correct it with a blend of medical approaches including dietary changes, herbal supplements, acupuncture and therapeutic massage.
After we correct the underlying imbalance, acupuncture can still be helpful for keeping chronic headaches from returning. I usually start by treating migraine patients with acupuncture twice a week. We can usually taper that to once every two weeks and then to once a month. Many of my patients are able to stop taking oral headache medications within six months.
Traditional Chinese medicine draws from 3,000 years of medical practice in China, but that doesn’t mean it’s an outdated way of treating illness. The National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization recognize the role of acupuncture in treating a variety of conditions, including digestive diseases, heart disease and pain.
If you’re curious whether traditional Chinese medicine can help you, call 571-665-6700 or read more about the Inova Traditional Chinese Medicine Center.