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Acupuncture for One-Sided Migraines and Headaches

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?

Emotional factors

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.

Exercise Factors

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.

Dietary Factors

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 (su