Almost all of us have experienced some type of headache in our lives. For some of us, there is a variable cause such as being dehydrated, lack of sleep, stress, or migraine triggers like dark chocolate/red wine. For others, it seems to be a result of muscle tension throughout the neck and shoulders. In any event, with acupuncture and some life style modifications, we can help reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches or even eliminate them completely.

Lifestyle

If you experience headaches regularly here are some of the basics you can start today

1) Stay hydrated. Meaning that in addition to water, you should be consuming electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium through your diet or through supplements if necessary. More tips on how to avoid dehydration.

2) Get plenty of exercise. Be sure to avoid anything that might trigger a headache, but try to engage in some form of strength training or postural exercise. Ideally you should get some initial guidance by a professional, but then I recommend maintaining a regimen of both for the rest of your life. In addition to maintaining your strength and posture, you should also be getting some form of cardiovascular exercise each day. At minimum you should get 8-10,000 steps per day, but try to reach higher intensities if/when you are able. Both strength training and cardiovascular exercise will help to fatigue you in a positive way and assist your ability to get quality sleep.

3) Get quality sleep. Easier said than done, but 8 hours seems to be a desirable target. If you’re not able to get that number just yet, try to find ways to guide yourself in that direction. Your exercise habits should help greatly in your ability to get to sleep easily. Some other basics around sleep hygiene would be to dim the lights 2 hours before bed, stop use of electronics 1 hour before bed, and cut off caffeine intake 6-8 hours prior to bed.

Acupuncture

Adding acupuncture treatment to these lifestyle modifications dramatically improves your chances of getting headache relief. Acupuncture has the ability to calm the nervous system and reduce stress, it can release muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, and acupuncture with exercise can help to balance your posture and keep unwanted tension patterns from returning.

Often stress and muscle tension in the neck and shoulders go hand in hand. Using a lacrosse ball or massage gun may give you some temporary relief, but acupuncture gives us the ability to address both the stress component and muscle tension simultaneously. Common acupuncture points on extremities, scalp, and ear have been shown to calm the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, and promote the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. This itself can be impactful in easing muscle tension and headaches, but acupuncture then has the ability to release individual muscles that may be provoking headaches.

Trigger points

When muscles are held in shortened positions or overused for extended periods of time, they begin to form trigger points. A trigger point is an irritable nodule in a portion of the muscle. It is usually tender to the touch and may actually refer pain to other areas of the body. For the purpose of headaches there are 3 main muscles that tend to refer discomfort from the neck up into the head. These muscles are the upper trapezius, sternoclydomastoid (SCM), and the suboccipital muscle group. Each of these muscles refers pain up into the head in predictable ways, and with pressure, can begin to mimic headache symptoms. When we use acupuncture to release these muscles, we are needling directly into the trigger points and looking to evoke a twitch response out of the muscle. This twitch response is a good indicator that we have resolved the trigger point, and positively impacted muscle tension.

On average we would expect about 4-6 visits to note dramatic changes in headache symptoms, but oftentimes 1 treatment can begin to offer some amazing relief. If you or your loved ones have been struggling with headaches, don’t hesitate to seek out acupuncture treatment. Life without headaches is always more enjoyable!


Hyatt Training Portland personal trainer Adam GawlakAuthor Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.

Learn more about Adam, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.


References

Ahn, Andrew H. “Why does increased exercise decrease migraine?” Current Pain and Headache Reports, vol. 17, no. 12, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-013-0379-y.

Arca, Karissa N., and Rashmi B. Halker Singh. “Dehydration and headache.” Current Pain and Headache Reports, vol. 25, no. 8, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-021-00966-z.

Cho, Soohyun, et al. “Effect of sleep quality on headache-related impact in primary headache disorders.” Journal of Clinical Neurology, vol. 16, no. 2, 2020, p. 237, https://doi.org/10.3988/jcn.2020.16.2.237.

“Presence of myofascial trigger points in 30 tension-type headache patients.” Acupuncture in Medicine, vol. 26, no. 1, 2008, pp. 59–59, https://doi.org/10.1136/aim.26.1.59-a.