In TCM, there are 6 main types of headaches. I’d also like to add four more, and discuss ways of dealing with them.
- Taiyang (frontal & occipital)
Causes: Qi deficiency, wind-cold attack, excessive thinking, and glucose imbalances.
Treatments: Typically speaking, all of these have a root in qi deficiency or qi taxation. The main thing is to smooth the qi, avoid worry and pensiveness, and to increase qi via not wasting it. In the case of glucose issues, if the person is undergoing metabolic changes then it’s important to make dietary corrections. Chronic frontal headaches are glucose related, while the rest are more dependent on excessive taxation. Extreme pallor and weakness in the head can be strong indications of qi deficiency. For example: hypothyroidism.
Overall this is an easier type of headache to deal with.
- Yangming (parietal)
Causes: usually blood stagnation or illness. These are very uncommon.
Treatment: meds and herbs that move blood; or treat the disease as it occurs. These are chronic for blood stagnation. It is advisable to drink white wine or champagne to open the collaterals of the head.
- Shaoyang (temporal)
Causes: typically qi stagnation, or Liver Blood stagnation related to stress and lifestyle, can be certain food allergies like soy, gluten or MSG. Also there are some nerve conditions which affect the TMJ area that would fall into this category. A number of issues can come from wind invasion that are unresolved, for example: chronic ear infections or Bell’s Palsy.
Treatment: expelling wind and cold if present, resolving the flow of the channels, and emptying the head of backup. The shaoyang channels bend and curve around the head, and can easily become “backed up” by jaw tension, furrowing, excessive thinking, etc… So smoothing the muscles of the scalp and jaw will definitely help this. But also it is important to move the blood stagnation, especially in strong migraine and cluster headache situations.
- Taiyin (whole head)
Causes: sinus infection or recent head trauma.
Treatment: antibiotics or western medical care for dangerous swelling.
- Shaoyin (behind the eyes)
Causes: liver and gallbladder qi and/or blood stagnation, liver yang rising, liver wind/fire, glaucoma
Treatment: sedating the liver by any means necessary. Including herbs, acupuncture, exercises that are calming, and probably this person needs to take a vacation very bad and relax. They are so tense, not even the eye ducts are open. This is excessive tension.
- Jueyin (vertex headache)
Causes: Liver blood stagnation or Liver fire or blood stagnation in the head or Du/spine channel.
Treatment: opening the Spine, alignment of spine, moving liver’s blood via wine and food and herbs, sedating liver fire by acupuncture and cupping, and calming the mind, draining it using meditation. Moving blood with herbs is primarily the formula Tong Qiao Huo Xue Tang, but requires certain signs.
- ST8 headache (located at corners of hair line)
Causes: left hemisphere imbalance, ST9 lock (emotions or cold/flu lodged in lymph-node)
Treatment: aside from the usual acumoxa, a meditation which enables the person to connect the channel from ST8 to ST9 will elicit a spontaneous muscular release in the neck and end the headache.
- Dehydration headache
Cause: liver qi stagnation which leads to lack of self-care, especially food and drink at appropriate times.
Treatment: water and rest; for chronic dehydration, probably the San Jiao will have to be treated with herbs and acupuncture because there is probably hypertension
- Tension induced headache
Causes: hypertension and hyper-stress. Excessive fight or flight syndrome leads to excess tension in vasculature and in back and neck muscles which pull on the occiput leading to chronic headache. This person simply cannot relax and they need to very badly.
Treatment: Qi Gong, Taijiquan, acupuncture and especially tuina/massage are required with occassional cupping and guasha to relieve sha buildup from holding tension. But most of all, this person needs to change their lifestyle.
- Inner ear headache
Causes: chronic latent pathogenic attack of weak GB/SJ channels and excessive energy in the Gallbladder, such as phlegm-damp. The extreme would be Meniere’s Disease and TMJ related headache, but commonly there is just simple sinus congestion in the ear.
Treatment: antibiotics until infection is neutralized, followed by building herbs and acupuncture, followed by diet and lifestyle changes to eliminate sources of dampness (dairy, fried foods, beer, smoothies, etc…). If the person is overweight, they need to lose weight ASAP. The inclusion of dampness in this is a problem for improvement, especially if combined with another type of headache that is blood stagnation, most commonly Shaoyang-migraine which affects the same GB/SJ channels.
There is a final type of “headache” I want to mention. It is purely damp induced but doesn’t hurt. Muzzy-headedness, or the feeling like your head is in a glass helmet, or wrapped around like a towel is caused by environmental and dietary dampness. The solution can be manifold. One way to deal with this is exercise, because sweating will eject dampness. Another way is herbalism. Another way is to simply lay on the ground and let the sunset wind blow over-top of your head… all of the above I have used personally to great effect. However, the most important thing is to eliminate sources of Dampness: fructose, MSG, gluten, soy, all of the above mentioned, and also Escapism. Escapism leads to something in meditation called Oblivion and this acts similar to dampness. That’s a bit deep for this article, but suffice it to say that fatigue you get when you are trying to read something important: that’s Oblivion. Just get up and move. The opposite of that feeling is a hyper-clarity, that’s when you open the back of the head and you feel clearer. I have literally had the room get brighter (to my eyes) by eliminating Oblivion and Depression. If that’s how strong it is, then you need acupuncture for sure!