Acupuncture and Headaches


Everyone experiences headaches at some point in their lives.  It may not be the result of a serious disease most times, but it is definitely a sign of health problems.  Numerous things can cause headaches.  However, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point-of-view generally classifies it into two major categories: exogenous headaches and endogenous headaches.


“Exogenous headaches” are associated with external pathogens.  In TCM, wind, cold, summer heat, dampness, dryness,  and fire are the six external pathogens known as the “six evils” that cause diseases.  The six evils may enter the meridians of the head and interrupt the energy flow to cause the headache.  The headache is usually attacked by a combination of wind and other seasonal pathogens.  During the attacking process, other symptoms of discomfort may develop with the end result of a headache.  Also, an unhealthy lifestyle or temporary body weakness could give more opportunities for the six evils to attack the body.


“Endogenous headaches” are associated with internal health problems.  The headache usually combines with other symptoms due to organ imbalance.  For example, deficiency of the kidney essence or insufficiency of brain marrow makes the head undernourished and dysfunctional, leading to a headache.  Emotional upset or stress can lead to liver channel energy flow stagnation; as time goes on, a fire pattern may be created which causes the headache.  Spleen deficiency which cannot transfer adequate nutrient essence to the head supply is another source of headaches.  Of course, any type of head injury can cause headaches to become chronic.


A thorough medical history and physical examination is crucial to identify the headache types and the imbalance or disharmonies of the body, so an appropriate treatment plan can be made.


Exogenous Headaches Endogenous Headaches
  • Acute onset, relatively severe in pain and in short duration
  • Mostly described as dragging, throbbing, scorching, or distending pain, or pain with a heavy sensation; it may be continuous. Combined symptoms like a cold, fever, cough, sore throat, or other general aches
  • Often triggered or aggravated by weather
  • Slow onset, relatively mild in pain and a long duration
  • Mostly described as a dull ache, pain with a hollow sensation, and dizziness (intermittent and the severity may vary from one episode to another)
  • Aggravated by over strain
Nature of pain Associated TCM Pathology factors
Dragging or throbbing pain Fire or Heat (Hyperactive Yang) pattern
Pain with a heavy or bearing-down sensation Dampness or phlegm pattern
Cold pain with a marked pricking sensation Cold pattern
Steady, stabbing pain Blood or Qi (energy) Stasis pattern
Pain with a distending sensation Wind-Heat stagnation pattern
Lingering, dull pain with a hollow empty sensation Deficiency of essence and blood
Pain and dizziness Deficiency of qi and blood