What We Treat


Cherry Blossoms

Headache Relief with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Headaches…are a headache—they’re painful, terrible for your quality of life, and awful for productivity. Moreover, they’re complicated—there are over 150 types of headaches. Just as no two people are the same, so are no two headaches.

Our acupuncturists know how to design treatments specific to your health history and your particular type of headache. They’ll use all the tools of TCM—acupuncture, cupping and gua sha, herbal medicine, and nutrition—to combat your headaches and help get you back to pain free living.

Read on to learn more about the types of headaches we treat, their causes, and our evidence-based approach. You can also see some typical treatment plans for headaches.

  1. Different Types of Headaches and Causes
  2. A Holistic Approach to Headache Management and Prevention
  3. TCM Treatment Plan for Headaches
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Different Types of Headaches and Causes

The causes, types of pain, locations of headaches, duration, and association with other illnesses make headaches extraordinarily complicated. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a unique approach which can handle this complexity.

Before you come in for treatment, pay close attention to the frequency of the headaches, the times of day you get headaches, the location of the pain, and how long headaches last. These pieces of information will help your acupuncturist accurately diagnose your TCM pattern and more effectively treat your headaches.

What is a Headache?

A headache is pain in any part of your head. That pain manifests in an enormous number of ways: it can be short or long in duration, sharp or dull, piercing or diffuse, deep or shallow, on the top, front, back, sides of the head, face or cheeks.

There are also many causes of headaches, but the most common is a tension headache, which comes and goes without any additional symptoms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 50% of adults suffer from some type of headaches. Of these people, 30% reported having migraines as well.

What’s the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine?

A migraine is a specific kind of headache. Non-migraine headaches often deal with both sides of the head and have dull pain. A migraine headache has a sharp and throbbing pain quality and occurs on only one side of the head—usually above your right or left eye. Migraines are also often accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, aura (sensory disturbances such as tingling on the face, seeing spots, or losing part of the visual field), sensitivity to light, and extreme fatigue.

Headache Causes

There’s no single cause of headaches, but rather many factors that contribute to pain in the head. Some of these include:

  • Genetics—headaches and migraines can run in families
  • Physical trauma—traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other physical injury to the head
  • Illness – especially influenza, strep throat, sinus infections, and long-term COVID recovery
  • Back pain
  • Poor posture
  • Eye strain, such as looking at screens for extended periods of time
  • Stress
  • Skipping meals or insufficient nutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Poor sleep
  • Certain medications
  • Weather changes

Types of Headaches

Headaches can be classified by cause, location, and manifestation. This creates an enormous list of types of headaches. Some of these include:

  • Tension headaches
  • Sinus headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Stress headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Temple headache
  • COVID headache
  • Pregnancy headaches
  • Caffeine headache/caffeine withdrawal headache
  • Dehydration headache
  • Forehead headache / Frontal headache
  • Left side headache
  • Right side headache
  • Allergy headache
  • Hypertension headache/blood pressure headache
  • Ice pick headache
  • Pressure headache
  • TMJ headache
  • Chronic headaches
  • Period headache/menstrual headache
  • Hormonal headaches
  • Throbbing headache
  • Eye headache
  • Barometric pressure headache
  • Occipital headache
  • Orthostatic headache

Headache Locations

Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses types of headaches by their location. This tells your acupuncturist which meridian/organ is involved and allows them to speed healing and help you get the best relief as quickly as possible.

Headache back of head, or occipital headaches

These headaches cause a very sore neck and back of your head (where your head and neck meet). This headache involves the bladder meridian.

Headache on top of head, or vertex headaches, as well as headache behind eyes

These headaches can feel like piercing in the top of your head and can radiate behind your eyes. This type of headache involves the liver meridian.

Headache in front of head, or frontal headaches

These headaches are the most common headache we see. They run right across the forehead above the eyes. This type of headache typically involves the stomach meridian. These can be stress headaches or caused by eye strain.

Temple headaches

These headaches occur on the sides of eyes and often feel better with pressure or rubbing. Temple headaches involve the gallbladder meridian.

When to Worry About a Headache

If you get even one headache a week, it impacts your quality of life, productivity, and sleep. NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen) can be effective for headaches, but also put stress on your kidney and liver. If you regularly use NSAIDs to treat headaches, you’re treating one area of body with a medication that is adding further stress to other areas. Acupuncture can safely and effectively treat your headaches, improve your quality of life, and reduce the stress on your internal organs.

What Can Pregnant Women Take for Headaches?

There aren’t a lot of medication options for pregnant women. Acupuncture is great because it is non-pharmacological, safe in pregnancy, and can effectively treat headaches and migraines. If you need pharmacological support, you must work with your MD to see what options are available and safe during pregnancy.

Can Allergies Cause Headaches?

Yes, they can. Allergies primarily cause headaches through sinus congestion. These headaches cause pain behind the eyes and in the front of the forehead.

Acupuncture can help mitigate the body’s immune response and avoid the allergic flare-up, as well as improve blood flow and clear congestion. Chinese herbal medicine is excellent at alleviating pain, pressure, and inflammation in the sinus cavities.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Headaches?

High blood pressure can cause headaches and are one of the key signs of hypertension. Acupuncture, herbs, and cupping can help treat head pain associated with hypertension, but checking in with your primary care provider is essential. It’s important to make sure any medications you’re taking for high blood pressure are correct and a more serious intervention is not needed.

Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?

Yes, dehydration is a common cause of headaches and can be solved by drinking water and electrolytes. If you suspect this is the cause, you do not need acupuncture—you just need to hydrate. If the symptoms persist after hydration, your headache is probably coming from some other source, in which case you should come and see one of our acupuncturists.

Can Stress Cause Headaches?

Unfortunately, yes. Stress elevates cortisol levels, which can lead to headaches. Stress also tends to reduce the quality of sleep and often leads to poorer nutrition, both of which contribute to headaches. Making sure you sleep and eat helps to reduce the effects of stress and prevent headaches.

Acupuncture can help you sleep better—and reduce stress by balancing your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and releasing endorphins. Chinese herbal medicine can also help you handle stress on a cellular level through adaptogens. Finally, our treatments are an hour where you can unplug and do nothing but let your body heal.

Is a Headache a Sign of Coronavirus?

Headaches can be a sign of COVID-19, although it is not the only one and should not be taken as a definitive sign of COVID-19. For those who have had COVID-19 and are in recovery, there are often recurring headaches that happen months after infection and can be treated through acupuncture.

A Holistic Approach to Headache Management and Prevention

Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a variety of holistic treatments of headaches. Your acupuncturist will work with you to help you see patterns in headache onset, make dietary recommendations, ensure you are sleeping well, and help with preventative care.

Acupuncture icon

Acupuncture for headaches

Herbal Medicine icon

Chinese herbal medicine for headaches

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Cupping for headaches

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Gua Sha for headaches

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Nutrition and headaches

Acupuncture for Headaches

Does acupuncture help headaches? Yes, acupuncture is very beneficial for the treatment of headaches. In fact, health insurers usually cover acupuncture for the treatment of headaches. If you’d like, we can check your insurance benefits. We’re in-network with CareFirst/BlueCross and Aetna.

Your acupuncturist will select acupuncture points for a headache based on the location of your headaches. You can expect to get a combination of local acupuncture points (such as yintang, located in the middle of your forehead for a frontal headache) and distal acupuncture points (such as ST-44 on your foot for a frontal headache).

How does Acupuncture Help Headaches?

Acupuncture helps to relieve pain in active headaches, as well as to keep future headaches from coming on. Acupuncture improves blood flow and can help with vasodilation. Acupuncture also releases endorphins and balances the nervous system, which can help to keep you from getting headaches in the first place.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Headaches

Chinese herbs are often prescribed for patients who suffer from frequent headaches. We prescribe Chinese herbs for headaches based on each individual’s constitution, symptoms, and primary TCM pattern. If a deficiency is causing the headaches, the typical course of herbs is usually 3–6 months. If the headaches are caused by an excess, the course of treatment may be a little shorter.

Herbal remedies for headaches

The classical headache herb we often use in TCM herbal formulas for headaches is chuan xiong. This herb is amazing for pain in the head and is used to treat the headache symptom—not necessarily the root cause of the headaches. Chinese herb formulas for headaches work best when they address the root cause as well as the symptoms.

Cupping for Headaches

Can cupping help with headaches? Yes, cupping is frequently used in conjunction with acupuncture to treat headaches. This suction increases circulation by mechanically drawing more blood to the area.

Cupping Placement for Headaches

When cupping is used to relieve headaches, cups are usually applied to the back of the neck and upper back. This increases circulation and can help to both relieve and prevent future headaches.

Gua Sha for Headaches

Gua sha therapy for headaches is one part of a multifaceted approach to head pain. Gua sha for headaches is best done in conjunction with acupuncture. Our acupuncturists will treat the face with gua sha on the forehead and cheeks. This will promote blood flow, reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and release serotonin.

Nutrition and Headaches

Can poor nutrition cause headaches? Yes, poor nutrition can be a contributing factor of headaches. Proper nourishment is vital for headache prevention. We advise patients who suffer from frequent headaches to be sure to eat 3 normal-sized meals per day. We find that headaches can be more common in patients who skip meals.

We also give nutrition guidance for patients based on their constitution. And—we also work with vegan patients to make sure they are getting adequate plant based protein in their diet.

Nutritional Deficiencies That Cause Headaches

Nutritional deficiencies have been linked to headaches. The most common are deficiencies in vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium. Dehydration and too much caffeine intake can also contribute to headaches.

Your acupuncturist will work with you to evaluate if you could have a nutritional deficiency. They’ll make a treatment plan that incorporates nutrition and supplements or Chinese herbs to help bring you headache relief quickly.

Chronic Headache Relief

EPchronic headaches

Elyse has been an integral part of getting my headaches under control

For years I have suffered from chronic headaches, Elyse has been an integral part of getting my headaches under control. After four months of treatment, I have seen a dramatic reduction in headache occurrence and severity. Five star rating!!

Read More

TCM Treatment Plan for Headaches

Regular acupuncture treatments are important to both relieve headache pain and prevent future headaches from happening. If you’ve been experiencing frequent headaches, you can expect to come in about once per week for six weeks for acupuncture.

We can also prescribe Chinese herbs for headaches during those treatments if your specific headache type would benefit from them. We’ll also likely use cupping or gua sha to relieve headache pain during the six-week course of treatment. Depending on the type and severity of headache, this six-week course of treatment may be enough, but for some patients less frequent continued treatments will be needed to keep symptoms under control.

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Your Acupuncture Treatment Plan

Your journey to better health begins before you step through our doors. You'll be able to easily schedule an appointment online as well as fill out your health history form before you arrive at our office—maximizing conversational and treatment time with your acupuncturist.

At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will discuss your health history, get input from you on what your treatment goals are, and develop a treatment plan. They'll then treat you using whatever services are best suited to your specific symptoms.

Although plans vary depending on the patient, most typically run for four weeks. At the end of your first visit, your acupuncturist will give you a written treatment plan. At subsequent visits, you'll discuss your symptoms and whether they've improved, regressed, or stayed the same. Your acupuncturist will adjust the treatment plan based on your input and their ongoing diagnosis of your condition.

When your main complaint is resolved, you can reduce treatment or work on another symptom. Still thinking it over? Take a look at our Testimonials page to see what other patients are saying. 

Let Us Help You Take Control of Your Headaches!

You deserve to feel better. Don’t let headaches keep you from spending time with people you love, doing activities you enjoy, or being productive at work.

If you’re ready to start feeling better, 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’re in-network with CareFirst/BlueCross and Aetna.

Be well,
The Cherry Blossom Team

Cherry Blossom Healing Arts
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