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Acupuncture for Migraines: Severe migraine pain on the top of the head or a feeling of a tight band

Acupuncture for Migraines: Severe migraine pain on the top of the head or a feeling of a tight band around the head

by Grace Ganel L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., C.Z.B.

Many people with migraines experience severe pain right on the top of their head. During this presentation, patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, and chills including particularly cold hands and feet.

Patients who experience migraines like a tight band around the head also usually report a heavy sensation in the head and limbs. Related symptoms include headache, dizziness, and chest discomfort. Usually, patients with this pattern also experience fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

These two presentations have somewhat similar roots according to Chinese medical theory. In the case of the migraine on top of the head, the channels we talked about in the last two blog posts have an acute imbalance, and in turn the imbalance has now extended to another channel in the body: Spleen. Chinese medicine is holistic, and considers all aspects of the body, mind, and spirit to be interrelated. When one channel goes out of balance, it disrupts the entire system and tends to put stress on other channels, too. When there is a migraine like a band around the head, this also points to an imbalance in the Spleen channel.

Why do these symptoms develop?

So what is the Spleen channel and what does it do? This channel is somewhat oddly translated from Chinese as Spleen, because the functions of the Spleen channel include the functions of the Pancreas organ – remember again that the channels represent a completely different theory from the Western organs, because Chinese medicine is its own unique and complete system of medicine!

Ultimately, the Spleen channel plays an important role in digestion. It ensures that the foods we eat get transformed into our tissues and into energy. It is said to be injured by the emotion of worry. Overthinking, worrying, and overeating or eating foods that are difficult to digest tend to injure this channel.

When the Spleen channel is not working well, a condition known as Dampness can develop. Basically, due to weakness or other factors, rather than turning our foods into our body tissues and into energy, the Spleen is unable to complete the transformation process, and we are left with a substance that we cannot use readily. Dampness can present as any manner of things, ranging from excessive nasal or vaginal mucus to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even edema (puffiness and heaviness in the ankles, belly, or even the face). In the case of these migraine disorders, the dampness is raised to the head and presents as a heavy and painful head).

Since we are unable to turn our food into good energy during such a condition, there may be fatigue and a feeling of cold. In order to maintain homeostasis, which includes a comfortable body temperature, we need to have enough energy. This lack of energy (Qi) can present as coldness, as in the case of the severe pain on top of the head.

How do you prevent these symptoms from developing?

As in the last couple of blog posts, we must ensure that the Liver channel is not injured because when the Liver channel is not well, it tends to reflect poorly on the Spleen channel, too. Additionally, there are lots of things we can do to help our Spleen channel to be as healthy as possible.

1) Promote emotional health

Similarly to how we discussed the last couple of migraine presentations, we must be sure to balance and express our anger appropriately to avoid this kind of migraine presentation. In addition to managing anger, these patterns also have an affinity for those who overthink or worry a lot. Therefore it is important to also manage these emotions by calming the mind, reducing stress, and grounding our energy when we begin to feel overwhelmed and worried. Talking to a therapist is a great way to work on this, together with acupuncture, zero balancing, and qigong.

2) Use Qigong to move and express emotions, and to nourish the channels

Qigong, which means “energy work,” is a system of mindful movement which is related to the martial arts. There are many different practices of qigong, some of which help to move, clear, and nourish the Liver and Spleen channels. Practicing qigong is a great way to promote a sense of wellness no matter what challenges life brings.

3) Mind your diet

As discussed in the last post, it’s important to be careful not to multitask while eating. Don’t eat while working, instead take a break from technology and just spend your lunch time on lunch!

There are several foods which are known to promote more dampness and place more burden on the Spleen channel according to Chinese dietary practice. So if you get these kinds of headaches it’s a good idea to avoid or limit:

  • cold foods and drinks

  • raw foods

  • dairy

  • greasy foods, such as meats which are high in fat or fried foods

  • peanuts

  • bananas

  • refined sugar

  • alcohol

Additionally, it’s a good idea to eat more foods like these dampness-fighters and Spleen-boosters:

  • cooked whole grains, including buckwheat and millet

  • stewed, grilled, or roasted vegetables

  • lean meats

  • roasted sweet potatoes

  • gently warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and onions

Please consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you are taking medications.

4) Try acupuncture or zero balancing

Acupuncture is a well-studied intervention for migraines (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Getting regular acupuncture treatments is a good idea for anyone who suffers with migraines.

Zero Balancing works with the skeletal system to promote relaxation and help you feel rejuvenated and well. Give it a try for yourself!

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.


1) Goadsby and Sprenger, (2010). “Current practice and future directions in the prevention and acute management of migraine.” The Lancet, 9.

2) Allias, DeLorenzo, Quirico, Airola, Toledo, Mana, and Benedetto, (2002). “Acupuncture in the prophylactic treatment of migraine without aura: A comparison with flunarizine.” Headache, 42.

3) Facco, Liguori, Petti, Fauci, Cavallin, and Zanette, (2013).

Acupuncture versus valproic acid in the prophylaxis of migraine without aura: A prospective controlled study.” Minerva Anestesiologica, 79 (6).

4) Yang, Chang, Liu, Hseih, Hwang, and Chang, (2011). “Acupuncture versus topiramate in chronic migraine prophylaxis: A randomized clinical trial.” Cephalalgia, 31(15).

5) Vickers, Rees, Zollman, McCarney, Smith, Ellis, Fisher, and Haslen, (2004). “Acupuncture for chronic headaches in primary care: Large, pracmatic, randomised trial.” BMJ, 328(7442).


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