Tension Headache

HA_temples_Indian femaleTension-type headache is one of the top three reasons for a primary care office visit. Usually, it presents as a tight, band-like feeling around the head, like the head is in a vise. Usually gradual in onset, this head pain may last minutes to days. Tension headaches do not have the associated symptoms of migraine headache; however, both headaches types often have neck muscle stiffness in common. [1]

Tension headache is a challenge to both Eastern and Western medicines, but an assertive approach may reduce the frequency, intensity and/or duration of these headaches. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), “Liver/Gallbladder Qi Stagnation” commonly produces tension headache. In TCM, the “Liver/Gallbladder Systems” both “control” head/neck muscle contraction and loosely correlate to the autonomic nervous system. As the autonomic nervous system responds to environmental and emotional stresses, the “Liver System” becomes agitated, and may trigger the scalp-muscle contraction of tension headache. Many with tension headaches report workday stresses produce or worsen late afternoon headaches. [2] [3] [4]

Acupuncture, with ear acupuncture, is useful for aborting these headaches in the moment; Chinese Herbal Medicine (especially), Trigger Point Therapy, cupping, gua sha, and Neurological Scalp Acupuncture are often useful for prevention.

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These brief overviews of conditions represent distillations of basic and current medical reviews from the following sources:

[1] Conventional Medical Sources

 “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine: Volumes 1 and 2, 18th Edition”. Dan Longo Anthony Fauci, Dennis Kasper, Stephen Hauser, J. Jameson, Joseph Loscalzo. McGraw-Hill Professional; (July, 2011)

Medscape eMedicine Physician’s online resource. Various review articles accessed June 2013:

Migraine Headache
Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA Chief of Neurology, Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital; Associate Professor of Neurology, Loyola University Medical Center

Tension Headache, Cluster Headache
Michelle Blanda, MD Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Summa Health System Akron City/St Thomas Hospital; Professor of Emergency Medicine, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine

Temopromandibular Joint Disorders
Charles F Guardia III, MD Instructor in Neurology, Department of Neurology, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Trigeminal Neuralgia
Manish K Singh, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, Teaching Faculty for Pain Management and Neurology Residency Program, Hahnemann University Hospital, Drexel College of Medicine; Medical Director, Neurology and Pain Management, Jersey Institute of Neuroscience

[2], [3] “Acupuncture Energetics: A Clinical Approach for Physicians”. Joseph M. Helms. Medical Acupuncture Publishers; 1st Edition. (1995)

  • “Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists”. Giovanni Maciocia. Churchill Livingstone; 2 Edition (July, 2005).
  • “Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide”. Giovanni Maciocia. Churchill Livingstone; 1st Edition (January, 2004).

[4] Chinese Scalp Acupuncture”. Jason Ji-shun Hao, Linda Ling-zhi Hao and Honora Lee Wolfe. Blue Poppy Press; 1st Edition. (November, 2011)