A Chinese Medicine Approach to Migraines
Migraines are the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Among women, they rank #1. It is certainly a disabling disease. For those who suffer, (at least 12% of the global population) they know all too well the harrowing marathon of pain and discomfort that migraines bring. They can spend as long as 5.3% of his/her lifetime going through an attack.
The symptoms can begin 1-2 days before the actual migraine, with signs of it’s impending arrival including thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, constipation, and neck stiffness (especially on one side). Some victims experience “aura” at the onset of the migraine, which involves visual disturbances such as floaters and bright sparks, auditory hallucinations, difficulty speaking and/or swallowing as well as weakness and numbness. The actual attack can last up to 3 days and can bring with it nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraine sufferers will retreat to a dark quiet room to weather the storm.
Biomedical explanations for what causes this suffering is limited. It has been described as a complex combination of neurologic, hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions. Genetics may play a role, as many mothers and daughters share the affliction. It is thought that female hormone fluctuations contribute to the higher incidence in women, with one observation being that a drop in estrogen (associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause) can cause blood vessels to constrict.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at both internal and external factors when sorting through causes and types of migraines. There may be external factors like wind, cold, heat, and damp environmental conditions that trigger changes in the body affecting qi and blood flow. Internal factors are more lifestyle issues that offset the body’s natural yin yang balance. What we eat, how we sleep, the stress we are exposed to and how we cope with it all play into that balance.
Yang energy flows upward in the body and the yang channels intersect in the head, so blockages and deficiencies can cause pain, confusion and dizziness. These blockages and deficiencies often, at their root, involve yin organs of the body including the liver, spleen and kidney. Some of the TCM approaches, depending on the individual pattern of the person being treated, include: Expel Wind-Cold, Anchor Liver Yang (& Nourish Kidney Yin), Sedate Liver Fire, Transform Phlegm (& Support Spleen), Nourish Qi, and/or Move blood.
In treatment, we often try to address the underlying pattern that is contributing to the chronic nature of the disease. Acupuncture can also be very effective at alleviating symptoms or shortening an actual attack. We can work with moving the local stagnation of the affected channel, which often involve yang channels of the body such as the Gallbladder, Bladder, and San Jiao channels.
While treatment from an acupuncturist will be customized for each person, there are some common acupuncture points for migraine that can be useful self-administered acupressure to help with the symptoms of an attack.
GB 20 (wind pool): the meeting place at the base of the skull and top of the neck, in the soft depressions just past the bony prominence behind the ears.
Taiyang (supreme yang): in the temple area, in the depression between the outer corner of the eye and the hairline.
UB 2 (drilling bamboo): in the depression in the bone just under the inner corner of the eyebrow.
In addition to a hot compress on the neck, some magnesium supplementation and ginger tea (for nausea), someone experiencing a migraine can also gently massage these acupressure points for 30 seconds at a time in repeated intervals to ease some of the tension brought on by this debilitating disease. For added relief, you can even add a little lavender or peppermint essential oil.
Don’t wait for a migraine to rear its painful head! Get in for regular acupuncture treatments to help reset the organ and channel balance needed for your body to function migraine free!