Can I Cure My Tension Headaches with Acupuncture and Dry Needling?
It is possible to cure tension headaches with Acupuncture and Dry Needling permanently. Treatment is fast, effective, and relaxing. Acupuncture and Dry needling for headache pain feels good, is refreshing, and helps you to sleep well.
What Causes Tension Headaches?
The term Tension Headache tells you the most important thing there is to know about Tension Headaches. They are caused by tension! 🙂 Tension causes the muscles of the shoulders, neck, base of skull, jaw, face, and scalp to contract. Muscle contraction constricts arterial blood flow. Constricted arteries are the direct cause of tension headache pain.
How Do We Develop the Kind of Muscular Tension That Causes Headaches?
Muscles Contract or Shorten with Use, and Over-contract with Over Use.
The job of skeletal muscle is to move bones. Skeletal muscles move bones by shortening. The brain sends signals to the muscles via the motor nerves telling them to contract. The junction of the motor nerve and the muscle is called a motor point.
So every time you lift a finger or run a marathon muscles are contracting and releaseing. Muscles contract with use. Press down on your keyboard and muscles of your forearms and hands contract. Keep typing and they keep contracting. And they do that because your brain is sending signals for them to via the motor branch of the peripheral nervous system.
The Role of Active Trigger Points in Headache Pain
That’s all well and good, because normally you stop typing after a while. But what if you are working on the final draft of a 30 page essay? Then after a while those muscle doing the work of typing start to hurt a bit. They begin to hurt because the muscles are becoming contracted, and excessive muscle contraction causes pain. And most of the time this pain is associated with Trigger Points in the muscles. We all have trigger points at predictable locations, for example, at the top of the shoulder where we all like shoulder rubs.
Dry Needling to Deactivate Trigger Points that Cause Your Headaches
But these trigger points, latent under ideal conditions, are activated by chronic shortening from use or tension, and become painful. They are now called “active trigger points.” And active trigger points can be painful in situ, but also can refer pain, for example, from the piriformis muscle down the leg, or the upper trapezius to the side of the head. Every single person with tension headaches has active trigger point. The beautiful thing is that Dry Needling “deactives” trigger points immediately. This is why dry needling is so useful for eliminating tension headaches.
When you eliminate active trigger points, your skeletal muscles of the scalp, jaw, and shoulders that are the cause of your headaches, return to normal and your pain goes way.
Acupuncture to Break the Pathological Link Between Mental Tension and the Muscles
Dry Needling deals with the results of chronic myofasical tension (tension of the muscles and fascia). It can get you feeling good right away. But it cant stop you from developing trigger points. Its Classical Chinese acupuncture that directly effects the nervous system patterns that have created muscle and fascial memory. Essentially we use the channel theory acupuncture to reprogram the nervous system. This does not mean that you dont also have work to do, if you are the kind of person that is tense all the time, or has habitual negative patterning that contributes to the headache formation.
So muscles contract with use, and they contract even more with overuse, whether its too much typing, texting, pressing on the gas pedal, hunching over the computer at your San Diego bio-tech job, bench presses, or even frowning. This is why its so vital to stretch after workouts; to help restore muscles and fascia to their normal length.
Factors That Cause Chronic Shortened Muscles that Cause Headache
Poor Posture Is Overuse of Muscles Which Causes Muscle Contraction
Another version of this kind of overuse contraction is what happens with poor posture. Good posture involves our bones and ligaments bearing the weight of the body, assisted by the muscles. Poor posture, like standing with your shoulders curved forward, your spine slumped, and your head in forward translation (too far in front of the vertical plane of your spine) cause the muscles of your back and neck to overwork. Because of unequal forces acting on the body in poor posture, some of your muscles remain in contraction to try and compensate. Those are the muscles associated with back and neck pain from poor posture, and also sometimes headache pain.
We have established that one way muscles become tense, tight, or contracted, is by overuse. This kind of overuse contraction pain is experienced .as post workout soreness, with overuse and repetitive use injuries like tennis elbow and tendinitis, and with chronic neck and shoulder pain from poor posture. All of these kinds of pain respond very well to treatment with Acupuncture, much in the same way that Acupuncture for Tension Headaches works. For some related info see Dry Needling and Acupuncture for Neck Pain
Muscular Contraction and The Nervous System
But there is a second, more insidious factor, in the development of Muscle Contraction or Tension Headaches, that also can be a major factor in neck and back pain, and that is our nervous system.
Humans, like all animals with a central nervous system, have a primal method for ensuring survival in the face of real or perceived danger. We share this trait with grasshoppers, fish, dogs, you name it.
Adaptive Mechanism: The Fight or Flight Response
The primary nervous system mechanism we recruit in order to escape danger is called the Fight or Flight response. The Fight or Flight response is part of the Autonomic (think: automatic ) nervous system that controls the internal environment of the body and all of its automatic processes your body does involuntarily, from pupil dilation and blood pressure to digestive enzymes and sexual responses.
You choose to eat, but you don’t control your pancreatic enzyme levels or the production of hydrochloric acid from your stomach lining. You choose to get up and go for a walk, but you jump when startled without thinking about it.
Stress, Fight and Muscular Tension of the Upper Body
Its because of the Fight or Flight response that we get up to fight. Acupuncture theory describes how “Anger Makes the Qi Rise.” No one lies down to fight. Its because of the fight aspect that our upper bodies become tense with frustration, pressure, anger, even rage.
Anger makes the Qi rise and Fear makes the Qi descend. You and I, or a prey animal like a deer, fights for its life when it has to, but, like a good Shaolin or Samurai, we run away when we can. And, by the way, the emotion that all mammals would appear to experience when fighting is some version of anger. Its associated with testosterone.
Flight, or, “Movement Where Thee Should Be Calm”
And the emotion that causes you to run for your life is fear. Chinese Medicine observed that fear creates movement where there should be calm, because the natural response to danger if you cannot flight is to flee, or run. so “Fear Makes the Qi Descend”. That is why you might pee or poo in your pants at a time of great fright. But what happens with low grade fear, like anxiety? Anxiety creates movement where there should be calm, a restless mind, a nervous body, tapping the feet, shaking the legs, sweating abnormally. And fear, or anxiety, creates a kind of vigilance–you are ready to flee at a moment’s notice. This leads to muscular tension that also can be related to tension headaches.
What Serves Us Well In Nature, Does Not Always Serve Us Well in the Modern World
So there’s the rub. We evolved to live in nature, with the seasons, with peace and quiet, with dark nights, and with very real intermittent danger from other humans, from venomous and flesh eating animals, and from natural events. The problem with the modern world is that stressors are relentless. And to add to that as a .kind of Value Added Tax, is that many of us, especially those with trauma, perceive danger even when there is none. We remain on guard, we are vigilant. The person afraid of snakes sees a rope, thinks its a snake, and jumps. The person who knows and likes snakes, wants to get closer to see what species it is. There are so many examples. But this is why it takes a special effort for humans to relax, and its why body scanning and mindfulness practice are such valuable tools along with Acupuncture for tension headaches.
Stress, Muscular Tension, and Tension Headaches
I think for most of us, when we use the word “stress” as in “i am so stressed right now”, we are actually describing the fight aspect of the nervous system. Because generally when you are stressed your mood is somewhere on the spectrum of fight. Whether its frustration from having an overwhelming amount of tasks, or the kind of pressure involved with being a commander in chief, of running a business, it puts us into fight and its the fight aspect of fight and flight that creates upper body muscular tension. There is a simple reason. Animals fight with their upper bodies. For most animals, humans included, that means by biting. But, as we stand on two legs, we mostly fight with our fists or with weapons we hold in our fists. But other mammals, their hair raises when they fight, especially around their necks and shoulders. This is one reason why Acupuncture for Tension Headaches works so well; it takes you out of your fight or flight response.
Personality Type, Ayurvedic Dosha, and Headaches
Pitta Dosha in Ayurveda, Wood Type in Chinese Medicine
All of us have noticed that there are different kinds of people in the world. Ayurveda, the medicine of ancient India, observed three major types that combine in 10 ways. The Pitta or Fire type, called the “Liver” or “Wood” type in Chinese medicine has a naturally penetrating intellect, great sense of humor, is precise, good at organization and control, with strong wiry muscles like a sprinter or long distance runner.
But, when imbalanced, these folks are easily impatient, overheated, hot tempered, and aggressive. They are born to rule, to be in control, and have strong wiry muscles. And their default response to real or perceived danger is to fight, key point. Headaches, whether Muscle Tension Headaches or Migraine headaches, are considered a Pitta disorder in Ayurveda, and a disorder of Liver Qi in Chinese Medicine. They are most common among Pitta types, as explained above.
Why Pitta Dosha and Wood Types are Headache Prone
These are the folk who are most likely to get headaches because of all the tension they carry in their face, neck, and scalp. , They are naturally tense even when not stressed, and have trouble letting go. They work hard and play hard. But you cant really relax hard. Relaxing means letting go, forgetting about everything. Hard for these types to do, which is why they make good warriors, generals, dictators, religious fanatics, revolutionaries, organizers, attorneys, cops. They want to make and follow rules. They not infrequently use alcohol to relax, because alcohol is a central nervous system muscle relaxer that inhibit or relaxes control. But drink too much and they can be angry drunks.
But, were are all a mix, so you could have even a weak version of Pitta dosha, or be Vata dosha primary and Pitta secondarily, and still get headaches because of your tendency to carry a lot of tension. This is all also mediated by how you were raised, what was modeled for you growing up, whether you were nurtured and loved or bullied and abandoned. There are so many variables. The good news is that in the end Acupuncture for Tension Headaches relaxes and unwinds tight muscles and help your nervous system drop out of the stress response and into the relaxation response, no matter what else is going on.
Acupuncture for Tension Headaches Puts Your Nervous System Into the Relaxation Response
Acupuncture for tension headaches works, in part, by shifting your nervous system out of the toxic fight or flight response and into what Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D., calls The Relaxation Response. The Relaxation response is what happens to your nervous system with any relaxing activity that makes you feel calm. The most profound ways to shift your nervous system out of the Stress response are Meditation, Mindfulness Practice, Relaxing Yoga, Tai Qi, and Acupuncture.
Next, Part Two,
The specifics on how Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Tension Headaches works, what does a treatment plan look like
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