Updated: Mar 26, 2020
In Chinese medicine, when we treat headaches, we first search for the reason why. We all know that taking an ibeuprofen might temporarily reduce the inflammation and pain, but does it prevent headaches from coming back? No. While it can be convenient to have a quick pain-reliever in the moment you are experiencing a headache or migraine, the reason why you are having the headache has not been addressed. Many headaches are caused by chronic neck and shoulder tension, stress, hypertension, sinus problems or past head trauma. While we can treat these problems successfully with acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine, first find out if these two causes could be the major culprit.
#1: WET HAIR
When treating patients, I first try to rule out any causes that could be a true quick fix, long-term solution. One of these is wet hair. While taking a Chinese medicine course with the wonderful and brilliant Chinese herbalist, Jimmy Wei-Yin Chang, he spoke about advising patients with chronic headaches and/or neck pain to use a hair dryer instead of letting wet hair dry on its own. Not only is this a cheap and easy solution, it actually works! Over the years, I have noticed many of my chronic headache and migraine patients showing up to their treatments every time with wet hair. While it may seem like an old wive's tale, there is actually science that backs this up.
When you leave the house or go to sleep with wet hair and are exposed to cold weather (or most commonly in Florida - air conditioning) it causes what we call a "cold-damp"condition in Chinese medicine. This condition creates a heavy feeling in the head with cramping pain that improves with heat. This happens because the moisture combined with the cold air hitting the back of the neck and shoulders causes hypothermia and dampness of the skin which leads to constriction of blood vessels and musculature of the neck, head, and shoulders. Overtime, this can lead to "brain cooling activity" which causes chronic headaches/migraines and/or sinus problems.
It has been drilled in our brains that we should use ice when we have pain and inflammation., but did you know the very person that came up with the acronym "RICE" actually promotes using heat now instead? If you think about what ice does, it slows things down. It makes the warm blood in an area sluggish and congealed and it temporarily slows inflammation, the processes needed to allow the body to heal itself. About 10 years ago I saw a patient who was taking Oxycontin several times per day due to debilitating migraines starting at the base of his skull. Upon questioning, he told me he was using an ice pack everyday to numb the pain. Not only was this not improving his long-term pain, it was further exacerbating it causing more headaches due to the contriction of his blood vessels not feeding adequate blood to his brain. After ditching the ice, using heat therapy, and getting acupuncture his chronic migraines were gone and he no longer needed any pain meds! Remember, while ice can temporarily feel good because it numbs pain, it causes long-term damage and can turn an acute issue into a chronic one.
To effectively treat headaches, the underlying cause must be identified and addressed. Treatment should be aimed at solving the underlying cause, not just alleviating the symptoms when they occur. If you or someone you know is suffering with headaches or migraines, we can help! Call our office at 321-972-2940 today and start living pain-free!