Tension Headaches

By Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

Tension headaches are the most common type of all headaches, and definitely one of the most common issues we see here at BCA. These types of headaches occur for a variety of reasons, and are often described as mild to moderate pain that includes a squeezing, throbbing, or feeling of pressure at the temples or in a band around the head. Occasionally patients will also report pain behind their eyes. These headaches almost always include tight and painful muscles at the back of the head, the base of the skull, and/or in the upper trapezius muscle (the “upper shoulders”). Women are twice as likely as men to experience tension headaches on a regular basis.

Tension headaches are broken down in to two categories: episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches occur less than 15 days a month, while chronic tension headaches occur more than 15 days in a month. Typically though, most people who suffer from these types of headaches tend to get them around 1-3 times a week. The most common causes of tension headaches include:

▪ Emotional/Mental Stress–This is the most obvious reason and causes many a tension headache. Difficulties at work or at home, major life changes (new job, loss of a job, a new baby, ect.), and a history of anxiety and/or depression are often the root causes of these nagging headaches.
▪ Poor Posture–this is one of the major things we see in the clinic related to tension headaches. People in professions that spend many hours working on a computer each day are probably the #1 type of person we treat with these types of reoccurring headaches, generally related to their chronic, poor daily posture while working.
▪ Poor Sleep–A single night of bad sleep can trigger the occasional tension headache, while chronic poor sleeping habits can be a major factor in those who suffer from chronic tension headaches.
▪ Not Eating Enough–Some people find that not eating for an extended period of time is the trigger in their tension headaches.

Treating Tension Headaches with Acupuncture

An online article published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) of a 2005 randomized, controlled study of the effects of acupuncture on tension headaches showed that those that received acupuncture experienced less frequent headaches with results lasting months after treatments had ended. Participants included 270 patients from 28 different outpatient clinics in Germany. According to the study, the participants were placed in one of three groups: acupuncture, minimal acupuncture, or a waiting list control group. Treatments included 12 sessions per patient over 8 weeks. Patients that responded to treatments (with at least a 50% reduction in days with headaches) included 46% of the acupuncture group, 35% in the minimal acupuncture group (superficial needling at non-specific points), and 4% of the waiting list group.

We treat a lot of people here at BCA with regular occurring tension headaches. Those that experience episodic tension headaches find that they get great relief from acupuncture, especially when they come in close to the onset of the headache. It’s relatively simple to resolve a headache when acupuncture is administered right away. We will typically use common acupuncture points in your feet to treat the headache, and will often simultaneously treat the muscle pain in the neck and upper shoulders with some local points in those tense areas.

Those with frequent or chronic tension headaches can be more difficult to treat. These types of headaches typically take much longer courses of treatment, with patients typically needing to come for treatment several times a week for the first couple of weeks. In addition to the pain relieving effects of acupuncture, the overall general stress relief that treatments provide help to establish long term success in the maintenance of these headaches.

We have had a lot of success in helping these individuals experience less frequent headaches, to resolve many of the underlying causes or triggers of their chronic headaches, and live more pain-free life. As an affordable clinic, BCA is able to provide long term pain management to people, as individuals are more likely to be able to afford more frequent initial visits, and to continue the regular visits sometimes needed to continue keeping their headaches away.

Source: Melchart, D. BMJ Online First, July 29, 2005.

Tension Headaches
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