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  • Writer's pictureEartha Armstrong, L.Ac.

3 things you can do on your own to help prevent and relieve your headaches.

The two most common types of headache according to western medicine are tension headaches and migraines. Tension headaches tend to be dull, steady, non-throbbing pain usually on both sides and can sometimes feel like pressure or like a band around the head. Stress or poor posture can cause them, and the pain can radiate from the neck and shoulders to the head. Migraines are often one sided, with a pounding, throbbing pain that’s often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, photo-phobia, dizziness and aura. Less common are cluster headaches which can be excruciating, stabbing pain in or around the eye that can happen every day for weeks or even months and then disappear for months or years. An infection in the sinuses can also cause headaches, which are often worse in the morning and worse with cold, damp weather. These headaches can be chronic and are often associated with seasonal allergies (see my blog on Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies).

In Chinese medicine, we are able parse out headaches into more detail and have a different perspective than a Western medical view. For example, headaches caused by an external pathogen, we often see these headaches at the onset of a common cold. We will treat a headache with a sore throat differently than a headache with no sore throat and a clear runny nose or a headache which feels like a heaviness, and something tight around the head with symptoms worse in damp weather and congested sinuses.

Migraine and tension headaches are no different, we take into account the location of the headache, precipitating and relieving factors, whether the headache is dull, sharp, heavy, and if there is a history of trauma. We will treat a migraine headache with pain on the temporal side of the head that only happens on the weekends, and made worse with stress and emotions one way and a migraine with pain on the forehead that shows up right after having a night of poor sleep with a sensation of heat rising to the head another way.

All these aspects are taken into account when assessing how to best treat a headache with Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture, cupping, moxa, gua sha (muscle scraping), and Electric stimulation are different methods that may be used to relieve tension, move energy and blood, relieve pain, and nourish underlying deficiencies. Herbs are often very helpful, especially if you have been experiencing chronic recurring migraines or headaches.

In one study “acupuncture was found to be more effective than both control treatment and preventive migraine pharmaceuticals. A prospective randomized trial documented the prophylactic benefit of acupuncture in migraine. The research demonstrated that after a 12-week treatment protocol, the acupuncture group experienced larger decreases in monthly moderate-to-severe headaches compared to the topiramate group.” It’s important to not stop any medication you’re taking suddenly, and all changes should be done with your doctor supervision, but acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be an adjunct therapy and can help in tapering off medication with your doctor’s guidance.

3 things you can do on your own to help prevent and relieve your headaches:

1. Diet

What we eat affects our energy, our mood, our digestion and so much more. A drop in blood sugar can cause a headache to start. Avoiding all sugars and processed foods and eating multiple small meals a day as opposed to very large meals will help with keeping blood sugar even throughout the day. Dehydration causes headaches as well, it is important to stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water throughout the day. Tip: If you have a hard time remembering to eat or drink, set reminders on your phone to keep you on track.

Avoiding trigger foods can make a significant difference in the frequency of your headaches. According to Chinese medicine, some foods to watch out for are coffee, chocolate, alcohol, spicy food, and sour food. According to the American Migraine Foundations the most commonly reported trigger foods are: alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract, food preservatives that contain nitrates and nitrites, artificial sweeteners, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Coffee and alcohol have a strong correlation for causing headaches, so that may be a good place to start. It takes a while for the body to adapt to changes so avoiding trigger foods for 2-4 months before deciding if they are contributing to your headaches is best. 2. Exercise

Regular exercise increases blood flow, reduces tension and stress. It also increases the production of endorphins, which makes you feel good and experience less pain.

I think it is so important to for you to enjoy exercising, so find something that you like to do. Whether its running, biking, swimming, walking, dance class, lifting weights - just make it a part of your routine 3-4 times per week.

I really enjoy yoga, it is great for stretching out the neck and back. Though, I prefer yin yoga or restorative yoga for headache relief because you can take the time to get into a pose and stretch and lengthen those tight muscles and fascia and less likely to cause further injuries.

3. Relaxation.

Stress is often a contributing factor and figuring out how to relax in this crazy world can be hard. For some, its hiking in nature, others it’s creating art or cooking, running, biking, meditation, yoga, hanging out with friends or ACUPUNCTURE. Find the thing that relaxes you and do it every week. Life gets busy and we forget to take time for ourselves…. you just have to do it!

This blog and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on this blog is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program. 


Flaws, Bob. Curing Headaches Naturally With Chinese Medicine. Blue Poppy Press, 1998.

Payant, Misha-Josef. “A Single Case Study: Treating Migraine Headache with Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, and Diet.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, Global Advances in Health and Medicine, Jan. 2014,

“Migraine and Diet.” American Migraine Foundation, 1 Jan. 2016,


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