Acupuncture for headaches

More than 45 million Americans, adults and children, suffer from headaches according to the National Headache Foundation. There are several types of headaches. Primary headaches are an actual clinical condition and not a symptom caused by another disorder. Primary headaches include tension-type headaches, migraines and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions such as sinus problems, allergies, dental disorders, head injuries, or brain tumors. Here, we mainly discuss the most common primary headaches: tension-type and migraine headaches, which can be treated with acupuncture.

Tension-type headaches

Tension-type headaches are also known as muscle-contraction headaches. This is the most common type of headache, and almost everyone will have one once in a while. They are recognized as recurrent headaches lasting minutes to days. Typically, these headaches are experienced as a dull pressure type of pain that is mild or moderate in severity. This type of headache can be treated with acupuncture while it is occurring, and generally, the patient will leave the office with at least a less intense headache, but many times will leave with no headache at all. If you suffer from these types of headaches often, it’s a good idea to have a series of acupuncture treatments to break the cycle of tension headaches.


Typical migraine headaches are one-sided, pulsating or throbbing, and moderate or severe in intensity. They are usually worsened with activity and may be associated with nausea and/or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light or noise. Some patients experience auras prior to the onset of a migraine. An aura is a neurological symptom that typically develops gradually over a period of several (5-20) minutes. The headache sufferer sometimes sees little flashes of light, waves of lights, or changes in their vision. Other common features associated with auras include vertigo, imbalance, confusion, and numbness. Generally, we do not recommend that a patient come in for an acupuncture treatment during a migraine. Although the treatment may help somewhat, it’s a better idea to initiate treatment when there isn’t a migraine present. Usually, a series of treatments is necessary, and the patient will find that the headaches become less intense and then less frequent. Eventually, it is possible to have no migraines at all.

Chronic Daily Headache

Headaches occurring every day or almost every day are known as chronic daily headaches (rebound headaches). At times, they may resemble tension-type headaches and other times they appear more like migraines. The overuse of headache or pain medications usually results in an overall worsening of headache patterns. Acupuncture is successful in treating these types of headaches if the patient also tapers off the medication that is being overused. Again, a series of treatments is necessary.

Jasmine Patel graduated from Bastyr University with her degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She went to China and did advanced internships in a hospital in Shanghai, China, and completed a one-year residency in Chinese Medicine at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health. She is a licensed acupuncturist in the states of Washington, Wisconsin and Illinois. To make an appointment with her, call 815-397-7609 or 815-963-3755.

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