Lisa, Here’s My 2 Cents to End Your Never-Ending Migraine!

I wish the Senior Editor for Health and Science @ Medium, Alexandra Sifferlin, or better yet, the author who suffers from migraine and “migraine to treat migraine”, Lisa Levy, can see this, so that more people like Lisa can leave despair behind, and experience the day when they “conquer the chronic pain and say goodbye to migraines forever” soon — it is not fanciful, it is real.

Motivated by a Sigh — from skimming Medium Health Brief

I received the following message in my daily mailbox yesterday:

The trigger story for this “story”.

My reaction was like: “Oh gosh! Wish I could reach out to the author or editor in order to help.” I wish that the author of “My Never-Ending Migraine” is aware of my previous blog post, and again on October 2, 2018 my post at our facebook page also re-mentions the holistic approach to heal!

For Chinese readers, our WeChat public account (WeChat ID: WeCareHolistic) has even more details on self-care: home remedies, acupressure home massage, and more… and professional treatment without strong side effects that are often part of the expensive drugs.

“Never-ending migraine” affect roughly 1 out of every 6 American and 1 in 5 women in the US.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regards the head as “the confluence of yang” and “the dwelling of lucid yang,” which mean the head is closely connected with other parts of the body, and all the organs (note that the “heart”, “liver”, “kidney”, “spleen”, and “lung” in Chinese medicine is very different than the organs in Western Medicine — they refer to a functional system, not a physical organ as Western doctors would usually think and sometimes mistake, same for Blood below) are responsible for nourishing it. Moreover, TCM holds that the brain is the sea of marrow, which is derived from kidney essence and nourished by food nutrients. The head connects with the internal organs through the meridians and collaterals; it also has orifices to communicate with the external directly. When external or internal factors impede the flow of meridians, disturb nutrient supply to the head, and block the head orifices, headaches will occur. Since there are many triggers or causes for headaches, the frequency and severity vary considerably between individuals. It may be a challenge to diagnose and treat headaches sometimes.

Clinically, TCM physicians rely on specific headache details to analyze the pathological changes inside the body; the information help them find the underlying disharmony patterns and provide guideline for the treatments. Below are TCM views on some headache disorders and the treatment principles.

The first thing to recognize: not all headaches are the same. Therefore, one treatment method may not be right for treating all types of headaches. There are five main types of headaches classified in Western medicine: Tension headaches, Cluster headaches, Sinus headaches, Rebound headaches, and Migraine headaches.

In TCM, these classifications don’t exist as much, but instead each individual is diagnosed by what “channel” or “organ” pathology is being affected and thereby causing the headache. In TCM, a headache has two parts: the root and the branch. The root is whatever is causing the headache, and the branch is the pain itself. Chinese medicine works to treat both the root and the branch, so the result is more long-term, instead of just temporarily relieving the pain.

A migraine is, as Lisa’s story re-confirms, one of the most talked about types of headache. Migraines can exhibit qualities including: pain lasting 4 –72 hours, one sided pain, throbbing pain, moderate-to-severe pain, and pain that interferes with routine activity. Usually migraines are accompanied by nausea/vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light and sound. The root of migraines in Chinese medicine is many times blood (ditto., different than what “blood” means in English or Western Medicine, so as the “organs” in Chinese medicine as mentioned above and “liver” below — they refer to a functional system, not an organ as Western doctors would usually think and sometimes mistake) qi deficiency, yin deficiency, or heat, but there could be other root causes.

From a TCM perspective, migraines are mainly due to invasion of wind and fire that cause meridian obstructions, and disturb the flow of blood and qi in the head. Also, liver dysfunction and its pertaining meridian have played important roles in the development process. TCM treatment for migraine aims to calm the liver (ditto.), dispel the pathogens and unblock the meridians. The treatment plan should be individualized according to a patient’s unique mental and physical circumstances such as body constitution and specific disharmony patterns.

Disharmony patterns and corresponding treatment plans (source: shen-nong)

TCM also distinguishes other realizations of headache, such as supra-orbital pain — where the pain is located above the eyebrows, distending sensation in the head, heaviness sensation in the head. Judging by Lisa Levy’s description, “the left side of my head felt like it was hit by a mallet”, her symptoms sound more like a typical migraine.

Migraine and Menstruation

Headaches in women are related to changes in the levels of female hormones during a menstrual cycle. The headaches can be one-sided or two-sided and in various durations, they may also accompanied symptoms like vomiting, no appetite, general weakness and paleness.

About 60% of women with migraine get a type of migraine called menstrual migraines.

TCM holds that during or around menstruation, the body’s conception vessel and thoroughfare vessel are exuberant and flushed with abundant qi and blood, the excessive qi and blood will empty into the uterus and produce regular menses. Meanwhile, the blood and qi supply to the head is reduced which lead to a temporary weakness of the region, pathogens may take advantage of the situation and attack the head. When the head orifices become dysfunctional or blocked, there will be headaches. Women who already have qi and blood problems, hyperactive liver, or yin deficiency are likely to develop headaches during menstruation. TCM treatment always aims to regulate qi and blood, and unblock the meridians and collaterals. Moreover, TCM physicians will consider the menstrual phases when selecting the herbs. Headaches during menstruation are often associated with disharmonies like blood deficiency, liver fire and blood stasis.

The person affected by migraines should see a quality acupuncturist to be properly diagnosed and treated. Drop us a note in case you have difficulty and need help. As of today, I have been doing pro bono free connection for 14 years as a hobby given my own passion and need for TCM— although this could change in the future since our startup has to find a way to survive. Subscribe to learn when our product launches in public. 😊

That said, I am going to include common home remedies in the next sections. As you can glance from a few trees below, the forest of TCM is a huge complex system, not just acupuncture.

Herbal Remedies

Western medicine views acupressure/acupuncture as meditative in reducing pain by improving circulation, reducing muscle pain and tension, and stimulating the release of endorphins. From a western practitioner’s standpoint, increasing blood flow to a sensitive location can stimulate healing by increasing access to nutrients and oxygen in the damaged tissue. In addition, inflammatory substances and injury related toxins can be removed more efficiently by increasing one’s circulation.

Chinese herbs have also been known to ease the symptoms of chronic tension headaches. Apart from the kudzu I specially blogged about before, here are some of the most popular:

Gastrodia (Tian Ma, Chinese: 天麻), commonly used for Headache, Migraine & Dizziness

Ginger — Rub a little ginger oil into the temples to relieve pain and reduce tension.

Poria Cocos — Often called Indian Bread, this mushroom is available from many herbal supply stores and is often used as part of calming herbal mixtures.

Chinese Licorice Root — Containing properties similar to aspirin, this herb can relieve tension headache pain.

Peppermint — Sometimes called Bo He in Chinese medicinal circles, rubbing oil of peppermint into the forehead or back of the neck works like aspirin to relieve pain.

Valerian, Wild Lettuce and White Willow Bark — Valerian and wild lettuce are both relaxing herbs. White willow bark is an anti-inflammatory herb. Combined, these herbs provide an ideal balm for tension headaches. Take no more than 60 milligrams of white willow bark per day.

Chinese Acupressure — can be done with your hands!

This type of massage is based on the meridians. Massage therapists use the fingers to strike, press, knead and pinch the acupoints along the meridians, so as to produce local or general therapeutic effects. Chinese acupressure massage has been used to treat a wide range of diseases, among them bone and joint problems or painful conditions have the most satisfied results, others such as internal organ problems, gynecology, pediatrics, localized problems of the head can also be treated. Due to the influences from different academic sources, regional cultures and practical experiences, many different schools and branches were established in Chinese acupressure, which have contributed hundreds of bodywork techniques for clinical application. Below are the acupressure protocols for headaches.

Acupressure protocol for headaches (I)
Massage therapists mainly use the thumbs to apply pressure on the body surface. “Pushing with One-finger Meditation” is a common technique in Chinese massage; therapists uses the thumb to push and rotate forward along a meridian, the swing frequency is usually up to 120–160 times per minute, so that the pressure can acts on the selected region for some time.

1.Push with the thumbs, along the sides of the neck (the courses of the bladder meridians), back and forth for 3~4 minutes;

2.Knead the acupoints on the upper neck, feng chi (Gb 20), feng fu (Gv 16) and tian zhu (Bl 10), 30 seconds each;

3.Use one hand to grasp feng chi (Gb 20) on both sides, and then grasp along the sides of the neck, up and down for 4~5 times;

4.Push with the thumbs, from the middle of eyebrows (Ex-Hn 3) up to the hairline (Gv 24), then push along the hairline to the hair corners (St 8), and then down to the temples (Ex-Hn 5), repeat the steps for 3~4 times;

5.Knead the acupoints like yin tang (Ex-Hn 3), yu yao (Ex-Hn 3), tai yang (Ex-Hn 5) and bai hui (Gv 20), 30 seconds each;

6.Comb and grasp the scalp with both hands, 2 minutes;

7.Use the thumb, forefinger and middle finger to grasp along the neck, up and down for 4~5 times.

Acupressure protocol for headaches (I)

Acupressure protocol for headaches (II)
Use the thumbs to apply pressure on the body surface.

1.Push with the thumbs, from the middle of eyebrows (Ex-Hn3) up to the hairline (Gv 24);2.Push from the middle of eyebrows to the outer sides of the eyebrows (Sj 23);3.Push from the middle of eyebrows, along the lower orbital (St 2) to the outer corners of the eyes (Gb 1), and stop at the temples (Ex-Hn 5);4.Push from the temples to the back of the ears (Gb 6), and down to the base of the skull (Gb 20);5.Wipe the forehead, knead the temples (Ex-Hn 5), and then wipe along the back of the ears and down to the base of the skull (Gb 20);6.Grasp feng chi (Gb 20) on both sides, and then knead the middle point feng fu (Gv 16);7.Push the inter-scapular regions of the back (Bl 43);8.Grasp the middle of the shoulders (Gb 21);9.Rub the sides of the lower chest.

During applications, the above steps are often modified according to individual conditions. For example, if the headache sufferer feels weak and dizzy, remind him close the eyes when doing the pushing techniques, while open the eyes when doing the wiping or grasping techniques. For headaches induced by common cold, it is advised applying the grasping techniques first, and then follow by pushing techniques.

Acupressure protocol for headaches (II)

Scraping Therapy for Headaches

Scraping therapy (gua sha) is an old and popular folk remedy throughout China. Its Chinese name, “Gua” means to scrape, while “Sha” refers to reddish skin patches that created by scraping. From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, many health problems are due to invasion of pathogens that leads to a sluggish flow in the meridians and poor distribution of blood and qi. Scraping therapy promotes the flow of blood and qi, activates the meridians, and induces perspiration to expel pathogens from the body surface, thus facilitating the recovery of the body. The appearing of “Sha” indicates that the pathogens are being released, individuals may feel relax or refreshed after treatment.

Modern studies have shown that scraping on the skin can activate the nervous system, accelerate the blood and lymphatic flows, raise metabolic rate, and thus improve the body’s defense against disease. Scraping techniques are easy to learn, it can be a useful and convenient way for relieving common ailments like common cold, sunstroke, stomach upset, dizziness, headache, chest stuffiness, diarrhea, indigestion, travel or motion sickness. Below are the scraping therapies for headaches.

Nipping to relieve headaches
Select body regions like the temples (Ex-Hn 5), middle of the eyebrows (Ex-Hn 3) and the sides of the skull base (Gb 20). Before the process, the areas and fingers are moistened with water, then use two fingers (the forefinger and middle finger, or the thumb and forefinger) to nip the skin forcefully and repeatedly. Nip for about 6–8 times in each region, until there appear ellipse-shaped patch on the skin.

Scraping to relieve headache and dizziness due to sunstroke
Clean and wipe the neck and upper back. Select a smooth-edged tool like horn blade or jade, dip into vegetable oil or warm water, then scrape along the sides of the neck, always scrape in the same direction, apply consistently and enhance the strength gradually. Scrape for 10~20 times in one side, till a reddish stripe appear on the skin. Afterward, scrape or rub the temples (Ex-Hn 5).

Don’t scrape the areas again if the skin patches have not faded. Scraping therapy is NOT suitable for individuals who are too skinny, have skin lesions, a tendency to bleed easily or those with severe conditions.

Nipping to create therapeutic effects

Hand and Foot Reflexology for Headaches

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the hands and feet are the confluences of the body’s yin and yang meridians which make the regions have vigorous blood and qi activities. Based on the order and arrangement of the twelve meridians flow, internal organs and tissues have their corresponding reflection areas on the hands and feet. Stimulating on specific areas of the hands and feet can help regulate the organ functions, and thus facilitate healing.

Generally, the techniques of hand and foot reflexology are simple, but a stronger stimulation is required to get the desirable results. Needling can achieve immediate and effective results, however this produces an intense pain that is not acceptable by most individuals, and so massage or moxibustion is usually employed. The following areas help relieve headache, which are usually act on them forcefully and for some time during a hand or foot massage session. See the graphics for references.

Hand
Selected according to the pain locations: anterior headache point (1), posterior headache point (2), crown headache point (3), migraine point (4).

Foot
Midline of the sole and one thumb-width apart from the edge of heel (1), the web between the big toe and second toe (24), the web between the second toe and third toe (25).

Hand and foot reflexology for headaches. Let me know if you need help learning.

Finally, a disclaimer: Before attempting any TCM therapy for the treatment of migraines or other chronic headaches, including non-medical approaches I posted here, please first consult your own physician or use at your own risk.

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Sources:

Many linked pages at www.shen-nong.com, in particular:

https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2015/03/23/dont-let-headaches-interfere-your-life-chinese-medicine-can-help