After I wrote the entry on headaches, I started to get one. What’s with that? I haven’t had a headache in at least three or four years! Anyways, it was an annoying and painful experience, since I had it for seven days. Maybe it was because I needed to write more about headaches…
This headache was dull, located in the temples down into the face for six days. The fixed pain was so mild I didn’t realize it was there most for most of the day but made itself apparent when I laid down at night. I was under a lot of emotional stress, especially the last day when the pain was the worst.
The seventh day it was located in the same place, but became progressively stronger as the day wore on. By the time I went to bed it was unbearable, keeping me up for hours. The pain was mediated when I rubbed my whole head, neck and shoulders, but I as soon as I stopped it would assuredly return. The headache had no relation to eating.
Pain in the temples can indicate heat in excess or deficiency or stagnant Liver Qi. The Gallbladder meridian was very tender, painful even, to the touch. Pressing the points on my face and neck felt wonderful, as if it was releasing pressure.
Since pressure made the headache feel better (albeit temporary) a deficient condition is indicated here. The fact that the pain increased at night is due to Deficient Blood, as does the fact that the worst part of the headache occurred at the end of the period.
Deficient Blood and Stagnant Liver Qi describe more than just a headache pattern, it also fits in with my general constitution. Blood Deficiency is aided by nourishing herbs like equal parts of dang qui, cooked rehmannia, lycii, ligusticum, white peony, jujube with a half part of licorice with blackstrap molasses. For the latter, Tierra recommends two capsules each of turmeric and cumin taken with fennel tea and five drops of lobelia tincture.
Unfortunately, my herb supply is low so couldn’t try any of Tierra’s suggestions. The only thing I had to work with is a tincture of black cohosh, blue cohosh, skullcap, kava and lobelia. I took three teaspoon doses of this on the last night when the pain was the worst. A mug of miso soup helped sooth the nauseousness caused by the lobelia, and in thirty minuets I fell into a headache-free sleep.
The origin of this headache can be traced to a sub-par diet, muscular tension and emotional stress. My work situation has caused much worry and placed me in a definite funk, and the lack of funds has impeded on purchasing fresh food. Because of the below zero weather with 30 below wind-chill, I have not taken my regular hikes. I have no real excuse for not practicing yoga, though, unless you count the uninspired funk.
The tincture I used is actually quite indicated when the causes of my headache are taken in consideration. A response to the intense stress was to gather tension in the neck and upper back, which I feel caused the muscles of my head to get out of whack. The lack of exercise combined with the bitter cold further tensed my whole body, and stagnated the liver because of decreased circulation. Of course lack of nourishing food further slowed the liver and depleted the blood.
Skullcap alleviated the pain and relaxed the mind from its constant stewing. Kava had a similar action, with more of a sedative, anodyne and sleep-promoting action. In the future I will try kava for tension headaches more often. Blue cohosh invigorated the blood and acted on spasmodic muscles, as did black cohosh especially on my tight neck and spine. This was the first time I used lobelia, but I could feel its presence in both my nerves and muscles as soon as it touched my lips.
Reference: Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
A while back I was talking to a friend who had migraines about six times a year, but came two at a time. She would have one for two days, then within a week she’d come down with another. I felt very sympathetic for her and everyone else who are prone to headaches, and thought to myself, “I’d rather have horrible menstrual cramps then a headache any day”. At least with cramps, you know when they are coming and when they will be done.
To be honest, the main reason I’d rather have cramps is because there is something so elusive, so hard to pin down about headaches. Feverfew has been proven to help migraines, but I have known it to not work on some people. Laying down with a wet rag over their eyes help some people, but others feel the headache actually get worse when resting. When I got Lesley Tierra’s Healing with the Herbs of Life I became enamored with her chapter about headaches. Part of the mystery of headaches dissolved as I discovered that there are about twenty different types of headaches from a Chinese perspective. Consider the nature of the headache in combination with the temperament of the person.
Where is the headache located?
Temples (one side or both), top of the head, sides of the heads, behind the eyes, forehead, back of head, whole head, face.
How often does it occur?
Twice a year, twice a month, twice a week. Acute or chronic.
What is the nature of the pain?
Dull, sharp, heavy, stabbing, empty, pulling, stiff, changes from one sensation to another.
How is it related to your state of health or life style?
Menstrual cycle, sinus infection, addiction withdrawal, hypertension, stress, high cholesterol, holidays, during work, pregnancy and postpartum.
How is it related to your emotional state?
Frustrated, angry, after crying, worried about money, relationship problems, anxiety or fear.
When is it triggered? Is it worse or better during the following:
Eating in general, eating specific foods, resting, pressure, cold, heat, activity, lying down, daytime, damp weather, menstrual cycle.
Tierra recommends equal parts of Feverfew, Chamomile, Willow Bark, and Angelica, with the Feverfew as a general formula for acute headaches. An alternate formula is Rosemary, Poplar, Willow, Wintergreen and Angelica. A general formula from Simon Mills for nagging but mild headaches is Linden, Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wood Betony. These help by dilating the blood vessels, stimulating blood circulation, and dulling the pain sensation. Sounds like a perfect cure-all until you consider that not all headaches are caused by constriction of the blood vessels. Mills explains:
“…most migraines are accompanied by vasoconstriction of blood vessels, a significant minority are not; sufferers of the former often obtain relief by applying hot packs to the head and are probably more suited to Feverfew than those of the latter.”
These “general formulas” can also be called generic. They help symptomatically, they are formulated for the condition, not the personal constitution. Here is just one example of headache differentiation for someone with Blood stagnation, who shows:
- Headache fixed in one place
- Intense, severe pain; stabbing and boring
- Side of body, ribs, abdomen may be painful/sore
- Dark tongue, purple
- In women there might be painful periods with dark blood clots
- Dark complexion
Equal parts of Corydalis, Motherwort, Salvia, Cyperus and Ligusticum is recommended by Tierra. In this formula, the Corydalis is an anodyne for severe pain and breaking up stagnant blood, Motherwort and Salvia stimulates blood circulation without being too warming and also soothes the nervous system, Cyperus addresses stagnant Qi, while Ligusticum moves both stagnant Qi and Blood that can cause the intense, stabbing pain. But even the twenty patterns of headaches can be generic when the focus is still on the condition, not the person.