Acupuncture Therapies for Headaches
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), painful conditions are generally considered from two aspects: "pain due to obstruction" and "pain due to under nourishment." An obstructive pain is often due to pathogens disturbing the organs and meridians leading to sluggish flow of blood and qi in the region. For example, when external wind and cold invading the body, they usually disturb the bladder meridian and result in headaches and stiff neck. On the other hand, internal disharmonies that cause progressive exhaustion of the fundamental substances, there will be a lack of nutrient supply for normal functioning, and pain can be one of the symptoms. Typical situations like this are headaches triggered by fatigue or headaches after delivery.
The head is regarded 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 are responsible for nourishing it. When the meridian system is free flowing and supply sufficient blood and qi to the head, normal activities of the head can be ensured. However, when the meridian system is disrupted by internal or external factors that result in impeded flow of blood and qi in the head region, headaches will then develop. Chinese acupuncture therapies for headaches always aim to unblock the meridians and collaterals, and regulate qi and blood.
Acupuncture therapies are like herbal remedies, which are designed according to the underlying disharmonies of the body, so as to relieve different types of headaches effectively. Appropriate point selection and stimulating techniques are essential. The major acupoints in the prescriptions are often selected in the head, which can stimulate the affected collaterals, eliminate local stagnation and relieve pain directly. Since there are many meridians and collaterals distributed in the head, making it has the most abundant acupoints of the body, TCM physicians will consider the location of pain and the corresponding meridians when looking for appropriate acupoints for headaches.
Generally, acupuncture has significant and rapid effects during acute attacks of headaches, but it should work alongside herbal remedies for more sustainable results.
Below are some important acupoints for headaches and their combinations. (See the graphics for references.)
Feng chi (Gb 20)
Feng chi (Gb 20) is located at the base of the skull, and belongs to the gallbladder meridian. The gallbladder meridian runs through the side of the head and has twenty acupoints in the region. Modern research has found that stimulating feng chi (Gb 20) can improve the flow of the basilar artery in the neck (a major artery supplying the brain), lower blood pressure, promote circulation inside the brain, enhance visual ability and relax the muscles in the neck. In TCM terms, stimulating feng chi (Gb 20) can regulate qi and blood and unblock the collaterals of the brain. It is an essential point for treating various headaches, such as migraine, tension headache, or headaches due to neurovascular problems or common cold.
For tension headaches, feng chi (Gb 20) is used with tai yang (Ex-Hn 5), tou wei (St 8), jing jia ji (Ex-B2), tai chong (Lr 3), zu san li (St 36) and san yin jiao (Sp 6).
For migraine headaches, feng chi (Gb 20) is used with tai chong (Lr 3), zu lin qi (Gb 41), wai guan (Sj 5), feng long (St 40), tou wei (St 8), tian zhu (Bl 10), shuai gu (Gb 8) and jiao sun (Sj 20).
For headaches induced by common cold and flu, feng chi (Gb 20) is used with lie que (Lu 7), he gu (Li 4), da zhui (Gv 14), tou wei (St 8), wai guan (Sj 5) and tai yang (Ex-Hn 5).
Xin hui (Gv 22) and qiang jian (Gv 18)
Xin hui (Gv 22) is located on the top of the head, while qiang jian (Gv 18) is located at the back of the head, the two points belong to the governor vessel meridian which branches into the brain. Puncturing the two points not only can unblock the superficial collaterals of the head, but also the collaterals deep inside the brain.
During applications, other points such as zhi yin (Bl 67), he gu (Li 4) and feng chi (Gb 20) can be combined to enhance the pain relieving effects; if there is dizziness, feng chi (Gb 20) and tai chong (Lr 3) are combined.
Xuan lu (Gb 5) and han yan (Gb 4)
Both xuan lu (Gb 5) and han yan (Gb 4) are located above the ear, on the section of the gallbladder meridian which passes through the side of the head. Headaches appear on both sides of the head are closely related to dysfunction of the gallbladder meridian, and the points are often selected as the major points for the condition. Puncturing them can activate and unblock the local collaterals, promote blood flow and stop pain directly.
During applications, other points such as wai guan (Sj 5) and zu lin qi (Gb 41) are combined to enhance the pain relieving effects; if there is eye soreness, tong zi liao (Gb 1) and si zu kong (Sj 23) are combined; if there is ear ringing, er men (Sj 21), ting gong (Si 19) and tai xi (Ki 3) are combined.
Si zhu kong (Sj 23) and shuai gu (Gb 8)
The triple burner meridian (Sj) and the gallbladder meridian (Gb) have many acupoints in the lateral sides of the head, including si zhu kong (Sj 23) and shuai gu (Gb 8). Shuai gu (Gb 8) is located above the ear, while si zhu kong (Sj 23) is located at the outer side of eyebrow. They can unblock the local collaterals and stop pain in the region. For typical migraine headaches that are often aggravated by physical activities and accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, si zhu kong (Sj 23) and shuai gu (Gb 8) can be selected as the major acupoints.
During applications, if there are also fatigue, no appetite, lower chest discomfort, abdominal distension, mouth and tongue sores, other points such as lao gong (Pc 8), wai guan (Sj 5), zu lin qi (Gb 41) and zu shan li (St 36) are combined for regulating the middle burner additionally. If there are bitter taste in the mouth, ear ringing, flushed face and irritability, other points such as xing jian (Lr 2), tai chong (Lr 3) and xia xi (Gb 43) are combined in order to purging liver fire.
Shen mai (Bl 62) and jin men (Bl 63)
Shen mai (Bl 62) and jin men (Bl 63) are located at the outer side of the heel, and the acupoints of the bladder meridian. Jin men (Bl 63) is also a cleft point of the bladder, which specializes in treating acute pain. They can effectively relieve pain and relax muscle along the bladder meridian, such as the back of the head and the neck.
During applications, if there are dizziness and blurred vision, other points like feng chi (Gb 20) and tou wei (St 8) are combined; if there are neck problems , jing jia ji (Ex-B 2) and feng chi (Gb 20) are combined.
Hou xi (Si 3)
Hou xi (Si 3) is located at the outer edge of the palm, and the acupoint of the small intestine meridian. This point is the stream point of the small intestine which is often used to stop pain. It is also a confluent point, which connects the small intestine meridian with the governor vessel meridian. It can promote the flow of qi and blood in the governor vessel, and relieve headaches and stiff neck rapidly.
During applications, if headaches are due to cervical problems, other points like the a-shi points, feng chi (Gb 20) and jian jing (Gb 21) are combined; for headaches induced by common cold, points like feng chi (Gb 20), feng men (Bl 12) and da zhui (Gv 14, moxibustion), he gu (LI 4) and lie que (Lu 7) are combined.
Yin tang (Ex-Hn 3), cuan zu (Bl 2), nei ting (St 44), he gu (Li 4) and feng chi (Gb 20)
The points are effective to relieve pain on the front head. According to the distribution of meridians, the front head is mainly governed by the Leg Yang Ming Stomach Meridian, headaches with apparent pain on this region is called yang ming headaches.
Shang xing (Gv 23), bai hui (Gv 20), nao kong (Gb 19), yong quan (Ki 1) and he gu (Li 4)
The acupoints are effective for headaches with apparent pain on the crown, in particular pricking pain, dragging pain or throbbing pain. They are also applicable to other head conditions.
If the headaches are associated with hypertension, and there is dizziness, other points like feng chi (Gb 20), taichong (Lr 3) and feng long (St 40) are combined.
Important acupoints for headaches