Traditional Chinese Medicine for Headaches and Migraines

Cherry Blossoms

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve had a headache before. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 50% of adults have some form of headache disorder. Of these people, 30% of them reported having a migraine disorder as well. The terms headache and migraine are both used to describe pains in the head or upper neck, but they’re NOT the same.  

All Migraines Are Headaches—but Not All Headaches Are Migraines  

Migraines are often more painful, so many people will describe a very painful headache as a migraine. Technically speaking, a migraine is a neurological condition classified by the presence of seizure-like activity in the brain. Migraine sufferers often experience nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances (auras or flashes), and/or sensitivity to light and sound in addition to an intensely painful headache. 

Migraines can also happen in other places of the body, such as abdominal migraines, which present as stomach pain with nausea and vomiting. Headaches, as you would expect, only present as pain in the head without the other accompanying symptoms of a migraine. Aside from migraines, the most common type of headaches are tension headaches and cluster headaches. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Treat Both Headaches and Migraines

Both headaches and migraines are conditions that can be effectively treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture is the most common form of treatment, but herbs, gua sha, cupping, and lifestyle changes can also be used.  For the treatment of headaches, TCM has several options depending on the particular etiology of the headache. 

Treating Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are usually stress-related and can be caused by muscular tension in the neck, shoulders, or jaw. For these types of headaches, both acupuncture needles, gua sha, and/or cupping can be used to unbind muscle adhesions and tightness, often relieving the pain while the patient is on the table. 

For stress-related headaches, acupuncture down-regulates the nervous system allowing your body to relax and the pain to dissipate. 

For headaches related to allergies or other external factors, both herbs and acupuncture can be used to modulate your body’s immune response and decrease the adverse reactions causing the headache. 

Treating Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches and migraines are often cyclical in nature, and so the first goal of treatment is to interrupt the pain cycle. This is best achieved by identifying the factors causing the headaches and reducing or eliminating them, which often includes a mix of acupuncture, herbs, and lifestyle changes. Triggers for migraines and cluster headaches include muscular tension (like tension headaches), hormonal changes, airborne particles, foods, medicines, stress, and many others.  

You deserve to feel better! Headaches are complicated and some medications can even cause rebound headaches. If you’re ready to try a non-pharmacological approach to headache pain management, we are here.

Headache Relief Without Medication

You deserve to feel better! Headaches are complicated and some medications can even cause rebound headaches. If you’re ready to try a non-pharmacological approach to headache pain management, we are here. TCM is an incredibly effective modality for interrupting the pain cycle of headaches and getting you back to life—uninterrupted. 

To get started, head to our booking page and schedule your first appointment. If you’d like us to check your insurance benefits, we’d be happy to take care of that for you. We are in-network with CareFirst/BlueCross and Aetna.

About the Author

Zach Beattie, MAc.OM, Dipl.OM, L.Ac.
Associate Acupuncturist at  
 Learn more about me

I find working as an acupuncturist to be truly inspiring, and am excited to come to work each day. I consider myself to be an integrative practitioner, and while I focus on Chinese medicine, I also incorporate Western medical concepts to best serve my patients.

Cherry Blossom Healing Arts
Cherry Blossom Healing Arts - logo
Open 7 days a week:
Mon 10:45 am – 8:00 pm
Tue 10:45 am – 8:00 pm
Wed 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Thu 9:45 am – 8:00 pm
Fri 8:15 am – 5:15 pm
Sat 8:15 am – 5:15 pm
Sun 9:45 am – 7:00 pm

2639 Connecticut Ave NW
Suite C-101
Washington, DC 20008
Get Directions