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Chinese Medicine For Unusual Chronic Pain

Updated on March 6, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Part of a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) market.
Part of a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) market.

Headaches of Many Kinds

Although I have had a few small headaches in my lifetime, I remember only two of these pains vividly: the horrid headache of a high fever as a child and the first migraine I experienced after inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke for 12 hours at work in food service at a university rock concert. The second event was accompanied by additional, bizarre symptoms. Chinese Medicine can help some of these bad experiences becomes less painful.

Source

Unusual Symptoms

Symptoms of my first migraine included the more usual symptoms of pain in the back of the neck that radiated up the back of the head and into the eyes, sensitivity to light, dizziness, and nausea, but also several hours of vomiting (more than usual) and extremely cold hands.

Migraine can also include visual obstructions – like seeing a herringbone pattern in the air – cognitive impairment, blurred vision, and other symptoms. I didn’t experience those symptoms, but suffered an inability to walk, difficulty in maintaining consciousness, and a a salt craving. In another migraine a few years later, I remember one aspect - tunnel vision in which the tunnel was becoming smaller in diameter.

Migraine suffers may also experience an aura before the onset of pain and other symptoms and I experienced this a few times -- My head felt as if it were enclosed in a large space helmet filled with angel hair (fiberglass Christmas decoration) through which electricity and an odd far-off gong sound were passing. I found that TCM can help alleviate all sorts of unusual symptoms.

During the initial migraine, it was a period of two hours spent away from the marijuana smoke in a different part of the building before I could drive home. Today, if I smell marijuana smoke, I vomit. At any rate, migraines are to be avoided. I found that certain aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) alleviate, reduce, and prevent not only migraine pain, but also the aura, the visual symptoms or hallucinations, and cold hands.

Acupuncture and Migraine in the News

Herbs, Massage, Acupuncture, and Energy Exercises

We know that for millennia, 1) acupuncture and 2) Chinese herbal preparations have relieved many types of headaches and their root causes. They also eliminate additional symptoms attaching to the chronic pain.

The body of related research literature around the world has shown that TCM has most often been used for cases of chronic pain other than headache, but has also proven effective in eliminating chronic headaches and even migraine.

Acupuncturists often advise that for the maximum effectiveness, acupuncture treatments are combined with

  • Chinese herbs,
  • Specific massage techniques, and
  • Specific energy exercises from TCM.

The use of Chinese herbs for migraine and chronic headaches of other types is complex and specific and is listed EIGHT divisions described in the second half of the page at Traditional Chinese Medicine Information Page.The herbs administered and shown effective are specific to each one of the divisions.

Example of acupuncture.
Example of acupuncture. | Source

In addition, the extensive text at the link above indicates that acupuncture works for migraine and and other headaches by changing levels of chemicals in the body: serotonin, endorphins, acetylcholinesterase, serum (blood level) magnesium, and endogenous (produced by the body) opioids. Controlled studies bear witness to some of these affects.

My personal experience with TCM is that migraine was completely eliminated by a combination of adequate hydration with teas and water, massage, relaxation techniques, and exercises.

Relaxation and Breathing Techniques

Replicated Research Evidence

One controlled study in 2004 that is compelling is found in the British Medical Journal. It looked at a total of 401 adults. They were 18 to 65 years old and all experienced chronic headaches at a rate of at least 2 per month.

These adults were assorted randomly into two study groups. Group 1 received standard Western (allopathic) care along with 12 sessions of acupuncture. Group 2 received only the allopathic care. Acupuncture was the only difference between the groups.

Both groups were followed for one year of time. At the end of that year, results showed that the adults that received acupuncture suffered 22 fewer headache days, used 15% less headache medicine, completed 25% fewer physician’s visits, and lost 15% fewer sick days from work than the adults that had no acupuncture. There were significant findings. TCM (specifically, acupuncture)

  • Produced a reduction in chronic headache pain,
  • Saved healthcare costs, and
  • Saved lost time from the job, to the employers’ delight.

Additional References and Evidence

  • Acute and chronic effects of acupuncture on radial artery: A randomized double blind study in migraine Artery Research. Université Paris-Descartes, Paris, France. February 19, 2010. Researchers: Pierre Boutouyrie, Robert Corvisier, Kim-Than Ong, Claire Vulser, Catherine Lassalle, Michel Azizi, Brigitte Laloux, and Stéphane Lauren

-- Acupuncture migration changes the circulation via vasodilatation (widening blood vessels) in the radial artery in patients new to acupuncture; “chronic treatment” maintained the vasodilatation (and migraine symptoms lessened).

Acupuncture for the Management of Chronic Headache: A Systematic Review. Anesthesia and Analgesia. 2008; 107:2038-2047. Researchers: Yanxia Sun, MD, and Tong J. Gan, MB, FRCA.

-- Positive results found overall from an examination of 31 separate studies

  • Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial. British Medical Journal; 2004;328:744. March 15, 2004. Researchers: Andrew J Vickers, Rebecca W Rees, Catherine E Zollman, Rob McCarney, Claire M Smith, Nadia Ellis, Peter Fisher, Robbert Van Haselen.

--"Conclusions: Acupuncture leads to persisting, clinically relevant benefits for primary care patients with chronic headache, particularly migraine. Expansion of NHS acupuncture services should be considered."

  • Acupuncture versus medical treatment for migraine and muscle tension headaches. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1984;47:333-337. Researchers: L Loh, PW Nathan, GD Schott, KJ Zilkha.

Clinical Experience

In a decade of work with pain and stress management programs among Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability chronic pain clients, I found additional elements from and related to TCM that can also help migraine and chronic headache sufferers–

Migraine sufferers often experience cold hands. Relazation and biofeedback techniques can warm the hands, but in patients for which this method is not effective, wearing gloves often both warms the hands and lessens migraine pain as well as lessening the more unusal symptoms. This has to do with circulatory changes that accompany migraine pain; warming the hands reverses them.

Stress can exacerbate migraine symptoms and increase their occurrence. TCM stress relief techniques, energy exercises, herbal preparations, and massage can reduce and eliminate stress that exacerbates these symptoms.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS

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