Innovative Acupuncture Headache Treatments
In a study, almost 500 adults were treated with either traditional acupuncture or a sham treatment in which acupuncture needles were inserted in nonspecific points. The acupuncture treatment points were previously used to study migraine. Participants did not know which type of acupuncture treatment they were receiving during the four-week study.
After completing the study, all of the participants -- including those in the sham group -- reported no headaches or fewer days with migraines than before. Prior to the study, most suffered monthly migraines, on average six days of migraines a month. After completing the study, they reported no headaches or average of three days in a month.
In the treatment of severe headaches like migraines, therapists focus instead on increasing circulation in the lower body, effectively minimizing the risk of increased dilation of the blood vessels in the head known to make a migraine treatment worse.
Both western medicine and Traditional Acupuncture Medicine recognize two categories of headaches: primary and secondary. A primary headache is a clinical condition, not a symptom based on another disease Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions such as dental disorders, Head Injury, sinus disease, allergies, or brain tumors. Acupuncture is used to effectively treat primary headaches, namely tension and migraine, which are the most common.
A primary headache is caused by problems with or overactivity of pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn't a symptom of an underlying disease. Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels of your head outside your skull, or muscles of your head and neck — or some combination of these factors — may play a role in primary headaches. Some people may carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.
Migraine (with and without aura)
Tension headache (medically known as tension-type headache)
Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), including cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicrania
There are other headache patterns that are generally considered types of primary headache but are less common. These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity. Although these headaches are generally considered primary, each of them could be a symptom of an underlying disease. These headaches include:
Chronic daily headaches
Alcohol, particularly red wine
Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions — varying greatly in severity — may cause secondary headaches. Sources of secondary headaches include:
Arterial tears (carotid or vertebral dissections)
Blood clot (venous thrombosis) within the brain — separate from stroke
Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
Brain AVM (an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels)
(both cancerous and noncancerous)
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Chiari malformation (structural problem at the base of your skull)
Ear infection (middle ear)
External compression headaches (a result of pressure-causing headgear)
Ice cream headaches (commonly called brain freeze)
Rebound headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication)
Sinus headaches (caused by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities)
Spinal headaches (caused by low levels of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of trauma, spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)
Thunderclap headaches (a group of disorders that involves sudden, severe headaches)
The Autonomic Nervous System and Headaches
To understand the role of the ANS in headache, the anatomy has to be understood. The ANS serves three basic functions in the brain:
1. Innervation of the smooth muscle of the vascular tree within the brain. A stress signal within the sympathetic nervous system will generally lead to vasoconstriction in the affected area of the brain.
2. Transport of neuropeptides and informational substances within the axons of the ANS into the terminals within the vascular endothelium. Several dozen substances travel via the ANS axons to the endothelium and are released into the bloodstream, causing both local and systemic effects. Serotonin, enkephalin, nitric oxide and the inflammatory peptides such as substance P, neurokinin A and calcitonin gene related peptide are thought to be involved in the genesis of migraine pain.
3. 80% of ANS fibers are thought to be sensory in nature and may be directly involved in pain perception. Sensory autonomic nerves are present in the cranial membranes (dura, arachnoid, tentorium), in the connective tissue and in the walls of the larger blood and lymphatic vessels. The ANS is known to have a wind-up effect (sensitizing effect) on the wide dynamic range(WDR) cells in the spinal chord, which modulate the pain pathway. If pain originates for example in the trigeminal system, this message has to pass through the WDR cells. If the threshold is lowered by arousal of the sympathetic nervous system in the same segment, the pain message passes through the WDR cell up into the brain. Arousal in the ANS can be caused by any excitatory stimulus acting on the axons, nerve endings or ganglia of the ANS. Common in the dental arena are abnormal electrical signals ("abnormal signaling") arising from dysfunctional scars (from tooth extractions or surgical procedures) or from dysfunctional teeth (decay, incompatible restoration materials, mechanical stress, toxicity from filling materials and infections etc.). The dental pulp has its own autonomic nervous system mostly comprised of sympathetic fibers traveling piggyback on the arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels of the tooth pulp. The fibers are post-ganglionic and arise in the anterior cervical ganglia (stellate, middle-and upper cervical sympathetic ganglia) and travel to the teeth piggyback on the vessels and trigeminal nerve fibers). Any dysfunction in a tooth or related structure (muscles of mastication, periosteum, dental ligaments, jaw joint capsule) may cause arousal in the adjacent sympathetic fibers, causing local or systemic electrical chaos in the ANS, which in turn can often result in the clinical picture of headache. This includes organic headaches, tension headache, cluster headache, TMJ/dental related headache, migraine headache, cervicogenic headaches, sinus headaches and others.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has two diagnostic frameworks for headaches: meridian diagnoses, based on the location of the pain and on the meridians (or channels) that pass through it; syndrome diagnoses, dependent on external or internal factors and on the characteristics of the pain. The four meridians involved in headache are Shaoyang (TE-GB channels, on the temporal sides of the head); Taiyang (SI-BL channels, occiput); Yangming (LI-ST channels, forehead) and Jueyin (PC-LR channels, vertex).
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