At Starting Point Acupuncture in Bothell, we specialize in complex and chronic conditions, chronic headaches are one of them. Call our office today, (425) 686-4498 to set-up your initial consultation to learn how we can help your specific concerns.
Strategies to Approach Chronic Headaches
Chronic headaches interfere with your sleep, work, or even energy?
Often described as a “dull, throbbing pain” that just won’t go away. There can be many triggers that contribute to chronic headaches.
Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints. According to western medicine, a headache is quite simply defined as the experience of pain in the upper neck, head or face. The most common types of headaches are vascular (think migraines), or involve muscle tension and stress.
What are the different types of chronic headaches?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two classifications of headaches, primary and secondary. In primary headaches, there is no identifiable underlying disease process that is the cause. Primary headaches are most common and are categorized as migraines, migraines with aura, tension and cluster headaches. Here we will briefly discuss the two most common primary headaches, tension and migraine.
Primary headaches are mainly due to lifestyle factors that trigger the headache. Examples include stressful events, poor sleep, poor posture, specific foods, skipping meals, alcohol, hormonal fluctuations, certain smells or bright lights.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These account for 90% of all headaches and are usually felt on both sides of the head and can affect the eyes, scalp, neck as well as the head. Tension headaches are most commonly caused by chronic stress or a stressful event.
Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying disease process or illness. The list of causes is extensive but includes such things as sinus infections, influenza, infections, dental problems, glaucoma, hangovers, and more.
A Western doctor will classify your headache as primary or secondary by assessing your symptoms and by doing a medical exam. If necessary, you may need blood tests or an image of the head or neck. However, primary-type headaches are most common and usually do not require more than an in-office exam.
Common Treatment of Chronic Headaches
Treatment is determined based on your diagnosis. However, most people with primary headaches will be given over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or NSAIDs like Ibuprofen.
If the headache is a migraine, treatment may include a prescription medication used specifically for migraines. The most likely scenario is that you will leave your clinician’s office with some advice to rest and a prescription of some kind.
What is the problem with this?
For one…many things. Most obvious is that the root cause is not being addressed as to why the person developed the headaches and the treatment is nearly masking symptoms. So, often I see in my clinic patients “daily headache” becomes chronic and ultimately affects their quality of life and they seek alternative help.
How do Naturopathic Doctors and Acupuncturists view chronic headaches?
According to integrative health doctors, a headache is a manifestation of a symptom, in this case pain, caused by an internal imbalance, known as the root cause. Just like in Western medicine where headaches are categorized as primary or secondary, in Eastern thought, the cause is also categorized but in a very different way. The clinician will assess whether the pain is due to an internal imbalance or due to an external influence like an infection.
Most patients who have headaches due to an internal balance will be assessed for the type of imbalance by checking the patient’s pulse, respiratory rate, color and quality of their complexion, their tongue color and coat. The patient will also be asked about the onset, time, location and character of the pain.
Through this lens, the clinician looks for a pattern unique to the individual to assess what type of imbalance is causing the headache. This differentiation establishes whether the person has imbalance from a state of excess or a state of deficiency somewhere in the body. This means the patient may have an accumulation of too much energy stuck in their body or it could mean they are low in energy and need some kind of tonifying treatment to relieve their headache.
Excess headaches include symptoms like sharp or throbbing pain in the temples or behind the eyes, a feeling of cotton or wool inside the head, sharp pain or feeling of heat in the head or face, feelings of nausea or chest oppression. Deficiency headaches are usually dull rather than sharp, involve the whole head, and are relieved by rest or eating.
In a nutshell, acupuncturists are looking for patterns unique to the individual. After a pattern has been established, a diagnosis can be made and that is how treatment is decided.
As Naturopathic doctors, we also seek to discover the underlying cause and often look at diet and lifestyle factors contributing to the headaches.
As Dr. Heintze often explains, “there are many pieces to the puzzle we have to figure out what they are and how they fit and everyone is different in how many pieces are involved and how they all fit together.”
At Starting Point Acupuncture in Bothell, we specialize in complex and chronic conditions, migraines are one of them. Call our office today, (425) 686-4498 to set-up your initial consultation to learn how we can help your specific concerns.
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc
- Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
- Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
- Master’s Degree in Chemistry
Northern Arizona University
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