The Stress Connection: Headaches

Part 3, An acupuncturist’s perspective
January 28, 2014 Updated: January 28, 2014

Do you suffer from headaches? Are there times when you are practically living on pain medications? Have you noticed that your headaches are more frequent or severe when you are under a lot of stress?

A headache is basically a pain in the head. It may be from tension, injury, vascular problems, or muscular contractions.

Almost everyone has suffered from a headache at some time. It is the most common physical complaint. The National Headache Foundation estimates that over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches.

The most common headaches are tension headaches due to stress. People with this type of headache usually have mild to moderate pain on the sides of the head. The pain is sometimes described as a constriction as if something is wrapped around the head and squeezing tightly.

You may have experienced a tension headache at the end of a stressful day at work. Maybe you were working on the computer, lost track of time, and then realized that you had been sitting in that same spot for a few hours lost in concentration or surfing the Web. Only after your head was pounding and your muscles were stiff, did you take a break.

Migraine headaches affect far fewer people but are more severe. Women suffer from them more often than men. They are usually shorter in duration and can include visual auras, dizziness, and vomiting.

Headaches can also be musculoskeletal in origin. Tension of the muscles of the back of the neck and spine can move up to the head.

All of these types of headaches can occur as a result of stress.

Fast, Natural Headache Relief

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to successfully treat all types of headaches as well as the underlying stress and anxiety, which is often the root cause.

Tension headaches, migraines, musculoskeletal headaches, and headaches from illnesses, such as sinus headaches, all respond very well to acupuncture treatment.

A distinct advantage that acupuncture and Chinese medicine have over Western medicine is that they do virtually no harm. It is natural health care that maximizes your system’s healing abilities.

Acupuncturists use the specific symptoms that you are experiencing as sign posts that point to the underlying causes of your headache. Then treatment is tailored to you as an individual.

If there is reason to suspect that there is a more serious cause for your headache, I would advise further screening by a Western medical doctor.

When experiencing headaches, most people take over-the-counter or prescription medications. These may help temporarily, but the headaches return because the pills only suppress the symptoms without treating the cause. Additionally, medications often have severe and unwanted side effects.

There is no reason to put up with recurring headaches. They drain your energy, cause irritability and more stress. How can you enjoy time with your family and friends or do a good job at work if you are dealing with head pain?

If a patient comes in to an acupuncture visit with a headache, they usually leave without it. Relief can be that fast.

Treatment Process

A common question that new patients ask is, where do I place the acupuncture needles? Are they all in the head? The answer is that there may be a few local points used, but more often I treat points in other areas, such as the arms and legs, which affect the specific location and underlying cause of your headache.

In Chinese medicine, we most often find that stress leads to an imbalance in the liver energetic system. The liver energy is responsible for maintaining the free flow of Qi (energy) and blood. Stress affects the liver very quickly, and that causes blockage and stagnation of the Qi.

Heat and an excess of yang energy build up and rise to the head. A headache reflecting a liver imbalance can affect the eyes or vertex of the head but can also move to the sides of the head associated with the gallbladder meridian, the yang pair of the liver.

An acupuncturist often thinks this way to determine how to unblock the Qi and restore free flow, which will eliminate the headache and rebalance the liver energy as well. The goal is to stop your headache and prevent recurrences by addressing the cause as well as the symptom.

If you are someone who feels extra stress during this holiday season, in addition to doing other things to relax, consider acupuncture. You will enjoy your holiday much more and get the New Year off to a better start.

Cindy E. Levitz, M.S., L.Ac., is a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, NCCAOM. She has been in private practice since 1996. Specialties: Stress, Anxiety, and Pain Reduction, Women’s Health Issues. Complimentary consultation: