Wunian Chen, MD, LAc, November 30, 2016
You’re slaving away on an important work project, sitting at your desk and staring at the computer screen, when you suddenly wince in agony. Someone has wrapped a huge elastic band around your head, and the pain is becoming insurmountable. But no mobster demanding ransom is standing behind you. Rather, a tension headache has declared war upon you. As the pain heightens, you reach in a desk drawer, only to find an empty bottle of ibuprofen. Does it even matter? The painkillers don’t seem to provide much relief, anyway. It might be time to look into alternative ways of treating tension headache symptoms, such as acupuncture.
What Is a Tension Headache?
Did you know that a tension headache is actually the most common type of headache? Often associated with muscle tightness in the head, scalp or neck, other symptoms of tension headaches include:
- Non-throbbing, dull, aching pressure
- Pain that worsens in the scalp, back of the neck and temples and can travel in the shoulders
- Pain that is felt on both sides of the head
- A sore scalp
Unlike with migraines, you probably won’t experience visual disturbances, vomiting or nausea if you suffer from tension headaches, which typically don’t worsen with physical activity. However, you may still be more sensitive to light or sound, although this doesn’t occur very often.
There are two types of tension headaches. Chronic tension headaches can last hours. If your headaches occur more than 50 percent of the time every month for at least three months, your physician will diagnose you with chronic tension headaches. On the other hand, episodic tension headaches won’t last longer than a week and can end after only 15 minutes.
What Causes a Tension Headache?
As with most headache conditions, a number of factors contribute to your condition. In the case of tension headaches, going through stressful and emotional events may cause you to clench the muscles in your jaw, scalp, neck and face, which can heighten pain and other symptoms. Other factors include:
- Skipped meals
- Lack of sleep
- Physical postures that strain the neck and/or jaw
- Alcohol use
- Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
- Sinus infections
- Dental problems such as teeth grinding
- Fatigue or overexertion
- Sleep apnea (which can be linked to obesity)
Treating Tension Headache Symptoms
“The good news,” says acupuncturist Dr. Wunian Chen, “is that the right medical team can properly treat you and eliminate all of your symptoms.” Many sufferers find that using an integrative medicine approach is best when seeking relief from tension headaches.
Treatment plans will largely depend on the causes of your tension headaches. If emotional stress, anxiety or depression are contributing factors, for instance, then your medical team may recommend integrating meditation and relaxation techniques into your life, possibly with the use of antidepressants.
Analgesics and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often used to alleviate the symptoms of tension headaches. Additionally, ergot derivatives can provide relief to individuals who suffer from a combination of migraines and tension headaches.
Other alternative therapies for treating tension headache symptoms include physical therapy, massage therapy and biofeedback to correct poor physical posture and improve responses to stressful events.
Acupuncture and Tension Headaches
Regardless of what’s causing your tension headaches, says Dr. Chen, acupuncture can help. In fact, a 2009 clinical review published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that acupuncture is a valuable non-pharmacological tool for individuals that suffer from episodic or chronic tension headaches. Another review, published in the same journal in 2016, highlights the effectiveness of preventing tension headaches with acupuncture.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into different trigger points. These trigger points will vary based on the causes of your tension headaches: for instance, anxiety, poor posture and fatigue can all benefit from acupuncture, but with distinct trigger points.
This is why it’s important to seek care at an expert center, such as Acupuncture Balanced Health, that specializes in acupuncture and harmonizes Western and Eastern medicine together to provide you with an optimal plan for treating tension headache symptoms. There’s no need for you to keep clenching your teeth with pain as another tension headache attacks you and forces you to put your life on pause. Contact us today to make an appointment.