by Kai-Chang Chan
A national survey showed that more than 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from severe headaches, and about 38 million Americans reported that headaches disrupted their daily activities. Because so many people are affected, it’s helpful to learn the different types of headaches and natural options for alleviating the pain.
Headaches can be categorized as either primary or secondary. Secondary headaches result from underlying problems like infection, trauma or vascular disease. Primary headaches are unrelated to other hidden conditions. Tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches are all considered primary headaches.
Tension headaches: Tension headaches are the most common. This type often causes a feeling of pressure on the back or lateral sides of the head or neck. Tension headaches may be caused by emotional stress and a sedentary work environment. Eyestrain due to too much screen time is another common trigger. When the trapezius muscle, sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle and the fascia on the head become tight due to overuse and bad circulation, the result is a tension headache.
Migraine headaches: Migraines are characterized as recurrent, unilateral and intense headaches accompanied with nausea, palpitation and sensitivity to light or sound. Most migraine patients have throbbing or pulsating pain for hours.
Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are rare compared to the two above. A cluster headache is characterized by a grouping of excruciating sharp or burning pain around one side of the eye or temple.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that headaches are related to the external environment and internal bodily conditions.
External factors: External factors include cold air, extreme heat and wind. The external environment can cause sudden vascular swelling or constriction during abrupt changes in temperature, which leads to headaches in some individuals.
Internal factors: Eating habits, fatigue levels, emotional stress, body posture, insomnia and the menstrual cycle all influence the body’s internal condition. Studies show certain foods, including the artificial sweetener aspartame and tyraminecontaining foods like chocolate, alcohol, cured meat and aged cheese might trigger migraines. Poor blood circulation from bad posture, fatigue and muscle overuse can cause tension headaches.
- Ice: Ice packs applied to the head, neck, shoulder and upper back can help reduce burning pain.
- Heat: Depending on the type of headache you have, heat might be a better treatment than ice, so experiment to see which one works best for you. Use a heating pad or take a warm bath to relax muscles and fascia.
- Movement: If you work at a desk, take a five-minute break every hour and stretch your neck muscles in different directions for better circulation.
Acupressure Can Help
Acupressure points are selected based on the area of pain and type of headache.
All-over-the-head headache: For a general headache, use the thumb to press on the back of your hand, between the first and second metacarpal bones. Find the end of the crease between the thumb and index finger and apply steady, even pressure. This point might cause uterus contraction, so avoid it if you are pregnant.
Headaches on the side of the head: If a headache occurs on the sides of the head, massage the temples, about 1 inch behind the eyes. Facial pain: Rub YinTang, the point between your eyebrows, to alleviate any facial pain.
Headaches on the back of the head: If a headache is focused on the back of your head, press the base of skull where the flesh meets the spine.
Gently massage the acupressure points for three minutes to relieve discomfort. It’s normal to feel sore afterward, since these points are full of nerves.
Kai-Chang Chan, L. Ac., M.A.O.M, was born in Taiwan and teaches in the San Antonio classrooms of Texas Health and Science University and is a practitioner at the new Acupuncture Health Clinic, 9240 Guilbeau Rd., 210-901-1234, www.acupuncturehealthsa.com. For more information about THSU classes in San Antonio and Austin, visit www.thsu.edu.