Health Conditions E - M

Headaches and Migraines

Practically everyone in the world has experienced a headache at some point of time. Headaches are distressing because they affect a person's quality of life and work performance.

Headaches are classified into two main types: functional headaches that have no clear cause, for instance migraine or headache during menstruation, and organic headaches, which are caused by inflammation or pressure on the cerebral blood vessels or cranial nerves. This type of headache needs further investigation by a neurologist.

Women are generally more likely to suffer from headaches than men.

Migraine Headaches. Migraines often cause an intense throbbing in the forehead, temple, ear, jaw, or around the eye. It may start behind one eye and spread to all of one side of the head. There may be associated diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, followed by malaise and a washed-out sensation afterward.

Migraine headaches can be triggered by:

  • Sudden changes in weather
  • Emotional stress
  • Lack of food
  • Grinding teeth
  • Sleep problems
  • Hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Bright or flickering lights
  • Noisy, stuffy, smoky rooms
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain foods, for example ripened cheese, chocolate, citrus fruit, red wine, sherry, port, MSG, additives, and food colourings.

Other Types of Headaches. The most common type of headache is the tension headache. These headaches can last for hours or days. They cause a steady ache around the back of the head and neck, in the forehead, and around the eyes. These headaches are due to tensing of head, neck, and shoulder muscles for a prolonged period of time, usually following a stressful period or because of poor posture.

Hormonal imbalances can also cause headaches. They can occur around menstruation or during the first trimester of pregnancy. Sometimes headaches are due to common cold or persistent coughing. For others, too much food or the wrong kind of food and drink can trigger a headache.

The Orthodox Approach

For the occasional headache, medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, or codeine may be used to relieve pain. However, it is important not to take pain medication for more than a couple of days a week because you can trigger a "rebound headache," a phenomena caused by the overuse of analgesic medications. In addition, drugs are not advised during pregnancy because they may cross the placenta and harm the unborn child.

By relying on medications, the root cause of your headaches is not addressed. If headaches are persistent and you pop pills regularly we recommend you explore the underlying causes of your headaches with a natural healthcare practitioner.

The IMI Approach

IMI practitioners will assist you to find the underlying cause of your headaches or migraine. An effective treatment plan can then be put together to relieve the symptoms and reduce the chances of future such headaches occurring.

Acupuncture has proven to be successful in the treatment of headaches and migraines. It has a significant therapeutic effect on symptoms such as pain and the frequency of migraine attacks. A controlled study found that acupuncture was significantly more effective that the control procedure in reducing migraine pain and medication at a 4 months and 1 year follow up (Vincent, 1989).

Acupuncture involves inserting fine, sterile needles into specific areas of the skin to relieve congestion, re-establish the flow of energy and improve blood circulation. It is not painful and most people find it to be an extremely relaxing experience. Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders respond well to acupuncture. It improves blood flow to these areas and relieves associated muscle spasm.

Chinese herbs are commonly combined with acupuncture to speed up treatment and bring about lasting pain relief. Chinese herbs, which usually derive from the fruit, seeds, bark or leaves of a plant, are carefully selected, according to the person's particular type of headache and underlying causes of headache. Many clients claim that acupuncture and herbs can reduce the intensity and frequency of attacks or cure their headaches completely. Six to eight sessions are usually sufficient to being about a significant improvement.

According to Chinese Medicine, headaches are due to interrupted blood flow in the head area, which is brought on by external and internal pathogenic factors such as weather changes, viral infection, poor diet, flickering lights, anxiety and poor sleep. Within Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are recommended for treatment.

Acupuncture improves blood flow and helps treat the underlying causes of headache. Before commencing an acupuncture treatment, the practitioner will first diagnose the type of headache involved. This depends on when and where the headache occurs, what channels supply that area, and which internal organs may be involved. For instance, pain in the back of the head is related to the bladder channel and pain in the forehead is related to the stomach channel.

When certain foods, hormones, or toxins are involved, then it is also important to regulate organ function such as gastrointestinal or liver function.

Headaches during pregnancy can be treated by balancing the internal organs, improving blood flow to the head, and reducing fatigue.

Other holistic and natural approaches are offered, such as exploring diet, nutrition, and lifestyle factors to effectively treat the underlying causes of headaches and migraines.


Vincent, C.A. (1989). A controlled trial of the treatment of migraine by acupuncture. Clinical Journal of Pain, 5:305312.