Acupuncture for Tension Headaches

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Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.  Everyone gets them from time to time, but in some it may become chronic.  There is no need to suffer, acupuncture can treat your headaches and make you feel better.

You probably know when you have a tension headache.  It is usually a dull aching pain that can come from being stressed out, upset, too tired, overworked, or stared at your computer too long.  There is often accompanied with tension of the neck muscles, pressure in the forehead, temples, or base of the skull.

For most people, the headache will last a few minutes to a few hours, but some have chronic headaches which reoccur for a long time. Severe chronic headache suffers can have it for more than a few days or months. Most cases are not an emergency, but if you experience an abrupt severe headache with a feeling of a snap in you head or if you headache is accompanied by a fever or trauma, you should go to the emergency room.

How does acupuncture treat headaches?

Ingredients: 2-3 slices of fresh ginger, peeled Beef soup bones- We used left over ribs from the week before, marrow bones also work 1 small onion, chopped 2 yellow carrots 4 leaves of basil bean sprouts (optional) 5 cups of water 1/2 teaspoon salt pepper to taste 1/4 pound whole wheat spaghetti (about 1/8 per person).  Rice noodles or buckwheat can be substituted. Put the water in a soup pot and bring it to a boil.  Add the ginger, onions, soup bones, carrots and salt.  Simmer for 45 minutes.  In a separate pot, boil salted water for cooking the noodles. Place the soup, with the vegetables, in bowls and combine with noodles.  Garnish with basil and sprouts, add pepper to taste.  Warm up and enjoy! Makes 3-4 servings. Photos: Andreakw

What are the most common imbalances that cause headaches?

When comes to headaches, the imbalance is often rooted in the circulation or production of the body’s energy called qi (pronounced chee).   Qi needs to be abundant and circulate through channels in the body or else illness occurs.

In Chinese medicine, it is said “When the qi flows there is no pain, when qi stops, there is pain and illness.” When there is stress, trauma, or other illness, the qi circulation can slow down and become stagnated. Someone with qi stagnation will have headaches that are intense, worse with stress, neck pain, ribside pain, possible insomnia, and digestive problems.

Another imbalance can be too little energy, or what is called qi deficiency.  If there is too little energy, then people will feel tired, get bloated after they eat, and have a weak pulse.

Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and acupressure all help to build more qi and smooth the flow of qi.

What is acupuncture treatment like?

An effective acupuncture treatment is based upon a specific and accurate diagnosis.  The root imbalance of the condition and by asking in depth questions, taking your pulse, and examining your body.  By targeting the exact root of the condition leads to the most successful treatment.

I combine acupressure, Chinese medicine massage, with the acupuncture to create greater results and a stronger sense of relaxation.  Usually people will feel some relief after only a few weekly visits.

Research on Acupuncture for Headaches

A recent metanalysis of 31 studies, showed that acupuncture was more effective than both medication and placebo acupuncture (2).  For those who do not know, a metanalysis is a more definitive study which examines many many previously performed studies.  The studies showed that acupuncture was stronger than placebo acupuncture for reducing headaches, and even stronger than medication for reducing headache frequency, intensity, and overall physical function.


1. Napadow V, Ahn A, Longhurst J, The Status and Future of Acupuncture Mechanism Research. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 September; 14(7): 861–869.

2. Sun Y, Gan TJ. Acupuncture for the management of chronic headache: a systematic review. Anesth Analg. 2008 Dec;107(6):2038-47.

Joseph Alban

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.

Joseph Alban is a Doctor of Acupuncture, New York Licensed Acupuncturist, and NCCAOM Board Certified Herbalist providing the highest quality Acupuncture and Chinese medicine care tailored to your needs.

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