Headaches: How to treat them using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Headaches affect everyone. They can range from being a simple annoyance to downright debilitating. There are several types of headaches. Western medicine lists more than 100 different types. In Chinese Medicine we group headaches into two primary categories- headaches caused by our external environment and headaches caused by internal factors. In this article we will examine a few of the more common types of headaches, and simple ways you can start to alleviate them.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches is the most common type of headache. Tension headaches are normally experienced as a constant ache or pressure in the forehead or the back of the head and neck. They are frequently associated with a stiff neck and shoulders, and triggers include high levels of stress and poor posture. In TCM these headaches occur primarily because of stagnated energy or qi. Self massage given to the neck and shoulders moves the stagnated qi and consequently helps to resolve this type of headache. A full body relaxation massage, works even better to reduce the pain.

Chinook Headaches

Only recently categorized by western medicine, chinook headaches occur because of sudden temperature changes. In TCM these headaches are known as wind related headaches. Wind is the general term used in Chinese medicine to describe weather changes responsible for causing pain. Properly covering the neck and head while outdoors when the temperature fluctuates, may help prevent these types of headaches. If you already have a chinook headache, a warm cup of green tea may help. Green tea has been used for thousands of years in a the east for pain triggered by wind. Ginger tea(if you are feeling cold) or peppermint tea (if you are feeling irritable and flushed) may help to relieve the pain as well.


Migraines tend to be very severe, and at times can be very debilitating to sufferers. Migraine pain is often described as throbbing in nature, and is felt more commonly on one side of the head. Migraines are also associated with nausea, vomiting, extreme light and sound sensitivity and blurred vision. In TCM migraines can occur because of several reasons. Qi rushing the head and head trauma are common causes. In cases of headaches due to any kind of trauma, and indeed any kind of severe debilitating headache, it is important to see your primary health care practitioner, to rule out disorders that may need western intervention.  Rest and restful activities, such as yin or restorative yoga, are helpful in correcting qi imbalances in the body that lead to this type of pain.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches occur when our sinuses are inflamed. This type of headache frequently occurs after catching a cold, or because of an allergic reaction or infection. Symptoms include pain and pressure in the front of the face that worsens on bending down, tenderness over the face, pain in the jaw or upper teeth, a stuffy nose and or nasal discharge. This type of headache is frequently confused with migraines, so its good to remember sinus headaches are not associated with nausea, vomiting or light sensitivity. In TCM sinus headaches are due to wind, heat, damp or deficiency. Facial massage that focuses on pressing acu-points such as Bitong (which in English means Penetrating The Nose) and Yintang (which means Hall Of Impression) may help to alleviate the discomfort associated with sinus headaches. Yintang is located at the center point in between the eye brows. Bitong is located on the side of the nose, at the bottom edge of the nasal bones.

Prevention is always better than cure, so to conclude remember that diet also plays an important role in headache prevention. Ensure you stay properly hydrated, and avoid refined foods and sugars.  Chronic headache’ sufferers should learn to also avoid the foods that trigger their headaches. Chocolate, avocado, coffee and peanuts are common triggers for migraines. Some individuals also find dairy products, can aggravate sinus related head pain. Acupuncture has been found highly useful, in the treatment of headaches. What makes acupuncture even more handy, is that it can help prevent headaches by improving your body constitution as well.


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