Acupuncture for One-Sided Migraines and Headaches
by Grace Ganel L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., C.Z.B.
One type of migraine I’ve seen a lot comes with one-sided pain which cannot be pin-pointed to one spot. I see this most often in people who menstruate. Often, in the week leading up to the period, the person has tender breasts, mood irregularities, cramps, and will experience migraine pain during this time. All of these symptoms are connected to a single Chinese medicine diagnosis. When I see this patient, I immediately know what the Chinese medicine root would be, and I am able to plan their treatment strategy accordingly!
Why do one-sided migraines and headaches happen according to Chinese medicine?
This type of migraine is most due to deficient substances of the Liver and Gall-Bladder channels. These channels are responsible for nourishing the sinews, the eyes, and the reproductive organs. They also keep things moving smoothly, such as emotions and menstrual blood. The Liver is responsible for starting the period. This is why deficiency of the substances associated with the Liver leads to problems just before the period starts.
When the substances of these channels are deficient, and then the added pressure of menses happens, all of the functions of these channels tend to suffer. This is why my client might experience tender breasts, mood irregularities, cramps, and migraines or headaches. So why are the migraines one-sided? Because the disorder is deficient rather than excess, only part of the head hurts rather than the whole head. This pain often occurs on the side of the head, because this is part of the Gall-Bladder channel.
What lifestyle choices led to this problem?
These channels’ substances are injured by the emotion of anger or frustration. When we hold our anger to ourselves rather than expressing it, that energy still needs to go somewhere. The Liver and Gall-Bladder hold onto that emotion. Holding that energy consumes energy and substances, and as a result, the channels suffer.
Another possible cause of injury to these substances is too much or too little exercise. Moving around keeps things from getting stuck (and as we’ve discussed, these channels don’t like being stuck). If we don’t move enough, these channels have to work extra hard to keep things moving smoothly. Since they have to work harder, the channels are exhausted. Alternatively, if we move too much, we over-use the sinews, which are the tissues that allow us to move. Since these channels keep the sinews nourished, overuse of the sinews also depletes the substances of these channels, as they are burning through their resources to keep us moving.
Eating a diet filled with “empty” calories and non-nourishing foods means you don’t replenish the channels’ substances. Additionally, eating a lot of greasy, fried foods injures the Liver and Gall-Bladder channels specifically because these are the organs which are responsible for helping us digest fats. Giving these organs a ton of work to do, as you might expect, exhausts the associated channels and their substances.
A common cause of deficiency in these channels is inadequate sleep or sleep during the wrong hours of the day. According to the classics of Chinese medicine, we are “supposed” to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. For the health of these channels, we should at least be horizontal, but ideally asleep, between the hours of 11 PM and 3 AM. Most people could make small shifts in their daily schedules to ensure that they are “down” during these hours in order to promote the health of these channels.
Of course some jobs demand that we keep different or even changing sleep cycles (such as emergency personnel who work nights on occasion, or people who always work the night shift at their job), so we just do the best we can to find other ways to strengthen the channels in those cases. Naturally, anyone with deficiency in these channels also benefits from these exercises and dietary changes.
So what can you do in your daily life to prevent this type of migraine?
Even if you can’t get yourself to bed at 11 PM, there are several other ways that everyone can give their Liver and Gall-Bladder channels a little TLC.
1. Move Your Emotions.
When anger is present, find a way to express it
. Anger is a generative and benevolent emotion which arises in the presence of a feeling of injustice. If there’s something you can do about the circumstance which angers you, try taking action! Maybe you can author a petition, or call your senator, or write a letter to the editor.
Once you’ve taken whatever action is appropriate and possible for you, you can find ways to let go of any residual anger, rather than storing it up and injuring yourself. Maybe it’s not appropriate to express it right away in whatever circumstance you find yourself. That’s OK, just make sure you reserve a time to express it. Maybe you call a friend and ask them to listen while you vent, maybe you write it down and shred the paper. Perhaps you can throw some pillows around, go for a jog, or use Qigong to move the emotion. You could even listen to music and dance or sing, or make art. Get creative.
It’s also a good idea to seek professional mental health support if you are struggling with emotional factors. Your therapist can help you develop healthy coping strategies around anger and other emotions. Even if you don’t have a chronic mental illness, you can benefit from therapy. And there is great strength in seeking help. Acupuncture can be a wonderful supportive therapy alongside psychotherapy, but it is not meant to replace psychotherapy.
2. Moderate Exercise.
Move moderately. Maybe you can’t run a marathon just now. Maybe you can’t afford to sit at your desk all day. Whatever way you can make the shift, create an appropriate amount of activity for you and your lifestyle. Take a break in the middle of your workday to stretch, go for a walk, or do Tai Chi or Qi Gong. If you’re someone who menstruates take it easier the week of your period, when you’re losing blood, so these channels don’t have quite as many demands.
3. Nourishing Diet.
Eat things that are cooked and easy to digest. Many people who have these kinds of migraines benefit from eating more foods which are red or dark green in color, such as red meats, beets, red beans, red lentils, kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, and bok choy. It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of non-caffeinated and non-sweetened beverages, such as warm herbal tea, broths, and water (but avoid iced water or tea). Replace coffee with green or black tea.
I offer Chinese medical dietary advice as part of my treatment strategy for all patients. Schedule your appointment now and we can discuss your specific circumstances.
4. Acupuncture and Zero Balancing
Schedule your appointment now. I love to support clients with migraines and menstrual health concerns.
Learn more about acupuncture for migraines
To learn more about how acupuncture and lifestyle changes can help those with other types of migraines, check out these related blog posts about acupuncture for migraines.