Herbal Medicine, Treating Pain with Acupuncture


A recent article in the research database, Science Direct migraine is a disruption in the neurovascular system, and more specifically, cranial and cerebral blood flow. Many studies have been conducted to find the underlying etiology for migraine, including studies of platelet status, artery and venous circulation to the heart, and nerve disorders. So far, there has not been any conclusive evidence to pin the cause of migraine on just one factor.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers migraine from a different perspective. Blood circulation is of primary importance. Causes for migraine are determined by measuring pulse and tongue signs, history of digestive and hormonal imbalances, as well as immune function.

Using Zang-Fu (identifying organ syndromes) diagnosis, migraine typically falls into a category of a either Liver Qi, Heart Blood, or GB Qi disharmony. There are other TCM causes based on location of headache as well.

An example for location correlating with cause would be a migraine or head pain at the temple. This is the area for the Gallbladder channel and indicates Liver heat rising up to the head. The clinician must then diagnose the reason for Liver heat in the first place. Points are chosen based on the final diagnosis. GB 8 is a commonly employed point, on the sides of the head in the temporalis muscle. There are other points on the sides of the head that can also relieve head pain as seen in the illustration.

What about herbs for Migraines?

Chinese herbal formulas are complicated in that they often contain a large number of individual herbs that are combined based on channel (meridian), taste, temperature and specific function. Just for the sake of illustrating, Chai hu (Radix Bupleuri), a woody herb, is a basic constituent of many headache formulas in that it circulates Liver qi throughout the system and helps detoxify the blood (Bensky, Dan & Gamble, Andrew, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Eastland Press, Seattle, Washington, 1993). This is THE herb for reducing fever, cooling the body’s internal thermostat, and easing emotional instability, all symptoms of Liver qi stagnation. It is combined with other herbs to make a strong enough formula to enhance its natural functions.

In about half of the cases, acupuncture alone can treat migraine. A series of 4 to 6 treatments can be enough to reduce intensity, frequency, and chronicity. In some cases, migraine can go into a remission and resolve completely. In more stubborn cases, herbs and acupuncture will be required to obtain results. In my experience, I like to use herbs because they work on the blood circulation and I believe this is an important part of treatment. However, I have also been surprised to find that acupuncture in and of it self can be just as effective.