By Alex A. Kecskes
Studies reveal that roughly 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches. That's about one in six Americans, which breaks down to 20 million women and 25 million men. Those who experience migraines typically have a family history of this type of headache. Tension headaches are the most common, occurring in about 69 percent of all males and 88 percent of all females.
Western medicine places a heavy emphasis on pharmaceutical remedies for chronic headaches. The problem with this approach is that virtually every headache drug has side effects, and the potential for side effects is usually higher for prescription drugs. Some of these side effects can be quite serious and may even be life threatening.
Alternative treatments for chronic headaches include acupuncture, herbs, and acupressure massage practiced by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners.
Often something as simple and non-invasive as acupressure can offer relief from chronic headaches. This ancient TCM technique promotes healing by stimulating channels of energy called meridians. TCM believes that pain often occurs when the body's energy or Qi is out of balance. The blockage of energy flow at one or more of the body's key points or meridians is believed to cause this imbalance. Applying pressure to these blocked medians allows one's “life energy” to flow more freely.
Western medicine views acupressure/acupuncture as meditative in reducing pain by improving circulation, reducing muscle pain and tension, and stimulating the release of endorphins. From a western practitioner's standpoint, increasing blood flow to a sensitive location can stimulate healing by increasing access to nutrients and oxygen in the damaged tissue. In addition, inflammatory substances and injury related toxins can be removed more efficiently by increasing one's circulation.
Chinese herbs have also been known to ease the symptoms of chronic tension headaches. Here are some of the most popular:
Ginger--Rub a little ginger oil into the temples to relieve pain and reduce tension.
Poria Cocos--Often called Indian Bread, this mushroom is available from many herbal supply stores and is often used as part of calming herbal mixtures.
Chinese Licorice Root--Containing properties similar to aspirin, this herb can relieve tension headache pain.
Peppermint--Sometimes called Bo He in Chinese medicinal circles, rubbing oil of peppermint into the forehead or back of the neck works like aspirin to relieve pain.
Valerian, Wild Lettuce and White Willow Bark--Valerian and wild lettuce are both relaxing herbs. White willow bark is an anti-inflammatory herb. Combined, these herbs provide an ideal balm for tension headaches. Take no more than 60 milligrams of white willow bark per day.
Before attempting any TCM therapy for the treatment of chronic headaches, including herbs, you should first consult you primary care physician. After you have seen your medical doctor and he or she advises that TCM methods may help you, find a licensed acupuncturist who is nationally certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org).