Headache & migraine treatment options

Got a headache? The biggest cause is dehydration, so first, have a drink of water. Other common causes are caffeine withdrawal, high blood pressure, stress, low blood sugar, and tight neck muscles. If you have persistent or severe headaches, you should get them checked out by a healthcare professional (If only so they can say “It’s not a tumah!”), but for minor annoyances you can treat it yourself with acupressure (points listed below).

Human skull bonesI usually find that migraines are caused by hormonal imbalances, or by neck muscle tension pulling on cranial bones. Our skulls are not a giant fixed globe: There are lots of different plates and oddly shaped bones that make up our brain protection. The joints (called “sutures”) are shaped like jigsaw puzzles.

My favorite cranial bone, the sphenoid. It barely shows at the side of the head, but inside it makes a gorgeous butterfly shape. When torqued, it also gave me a monstrous migraine headache!

My favorite cranial bone, the sphenoid. It barely shows at the side of the head (it’s pink in the other picture), but inside it makes a gorgeous butterfly shape. When torqued, it also gives me a monstrous migraine headache! I keep them away by getting care for my neck, and using the acupressure points below when one threatens to attack…

Our bones move with a subtle pulsing called the craniosacral rhythm. If the neck muscles attached to the skull get too tight, they can jam up those joints and cause migraines. The fix: Acupuncture and medical massage for the muscles involved. Craniosacral therapy by a skilled practitioner is also wonderful, but be sure to see someone who’s thoroughly trained. A weekend seminar is not enough! If there are hormonal causes, acupuncture is superb for that as well.

Here’s a handy acupressure point for any headache, including a migraine: It’s in that “second piercing” spot, below the anti-tragus. Press firmly for a few seconds. If you have an earring in, you should remove it if possible, at least until your headache passes. For more information on ear points, check out this article. Also, look at LI-4KD-1, and GB-21 and TB-5  if you have neck tension. Definitely read this if you’re considering a Daith piercing. 

Press firmly with a fingertip or fingernail. It will hurt, but it'll be worth it!
Press firmly with a fingertip or fingernail to stop a headache or migraine. It will hurt, but it’ll be worth it!

 

Ear seeds – Radishes for reflexology!

If you ever attend an event with me, soon you’ll notice people walking around with funny little stickers on their ears. Ear seeds are my mobile acupressure strategy. When people come up to me and ask what I can do about their back pain in the middle of a party… BAM! On go the ear seeds. These are radish seeds on a tiny piece of band-aid tape. There’s nothing magical about the radish – they are just the right size and shape to apply acupressure to any of the 100 points on your ear (map below).

You’re familiar with reflexology, right? You know how your entire body is reflected on your hands and feet? Same deal with the ears. I can treat pain or dysfunction anywhere in the body, emotional upheaval, anxiety, etc. This is why I’m not a huge fan of lots of piercings. It’s also why ear massages are like getting a full body massage, and terrific for immediately calming someone down. Try it the next time your migraines act up, your dog is freaked out, or your sweetheart has road rage. :) Just gently rub the entire ear – don’t worry about hitting specific points for this purpose.

Once the seeds are on, they are working. They will last 3-4 days, and you can shower normally. If you want to give the treatment a boost, and can’t feel them on your ears, give them a gentle squeeze to wake them up. If you are already aware of them, leave them alone… they will probably be pretty tender to the touch! Sometimes people find the ear seeds annoying or sore, particularly if they are side-sleepers or they are working superhard (the more active a point is, the more it can hurt). In that case, just take them off. The point is to make you feel better!

I never charge for ear seeds. Ask me for them anytime – I always have them in my purse, and you are welcome to drop by the clinic for a quick installation.

Note: Some people use ear staples for quitting smoking, weight loss, etc. I prefer earseeds, since sending someone out with an open wound is an invitation to infection. Acupressure is hugely powerful and hurts less, too!

There are about 100 points on the ear, so I can treat nearly anything. Ear seeds are quick, portable, and give you a few days of acupressure.

There are about 100 points on the ear, so I can treat nearly anything. Ear seeds are quick, portable, and give you a few days of acupressure.

Healthy Boots – that look great!

I got rid of 95% of my old shoes once I made the switch to minimal, wide-toed, unheeled footwear. Wearing my old collection just felt awful after my toes were liberated. Like children, once they are educated, there’s no going back. :) So I was left with my new shoes… and NO healthy boots. With our cold, damp winters, and as much time as I like to spend outside, that was no good at all. So I went on a mission. I visited Shoe Mill (their selection was disappointingly high-heeled and rigid-soled) and Footwise (just didn’t see anything that appealed to me). I would have liked to hit Cobbler Bill’s and the rest of my list, but I’m a busy girl!

I checked out both Imelda’s and Clogs & More on Hawthorne about a month back – all I found was the rain boots mentioned in the shoe shopping post. They may have some new stock now. After Nordstrom’s and Macy’s at the mall, I went online. Zappos was uncharacteristically empty of options, but the Nordstrom’s website was terrific.

Here’s what my quest brought me. I didn’t buy all of these, but I did “borrow” a few on my credit card, since they all have free shipping & returns, and I can wear them inside for a while to see how they really feel before I pick which one(s) to keep. Much better than a 30-second try in a store, right?

The Finds:

Keen Delancy

The Keen “Delancy” is close, but I couldn’t get it zipped. This is a common problem for me, since I am 4’10” and my calf muscles start lower. If you have longer / slimmer legs, try them out. I have been distressed by Keen’s new line, which is both stiff and narrow. These are a rare, and welcome, throwback.

 

phoenixside

 

Soft Star makes this boot, the “Phoenix,” but it doesn’t meet my aesthetic standards so I haven’t tested it. I’m not fond of the “Ugg” shape and I don’t do brown. If you do, give them a go!

Born Lecia

 

 

Børn “Lecia” – These made me very, very sad. Born is a great company, and I was SO excited about having red lace-up boots! Sadly, the tops were too long for me, and pushed up under my knees. They were fine for standing, but when I moved and bent my legs they were no good. If you are a normal-sized human this will not be an issue. Note – these would be fine for even bigger calves than mine: The tongue has a big overlap. Worse than the height is the heel. It has a pointed bottom, and a soft sole, so the net effect felt like a point poking up into my heel. Immediately very uncomfortable, and it got worse over 20 minutes.

 

Merrel Haven (Nordies)

Merrell “Haven” is no oasis.

My first impression: The Havens are the least comfortable Merrell’s I’ve ever worn. They are far too narrow. By the time I sized up to a decent width, they were crazy long… Like, clown shoe long. Try again, Merrell. Plus, the look isn’t really my style. Note: The Captiva (not shown) is wider and better looking, but I couldn’t zip it. Besides, it has a small heel lift.

 

 

Born Kaila (Macys) healthy boots

THE WINNER! I was Born to wear these healthy boots! :)

 Børn “Kaila,”  at Macy’s 

Love these! They do have about a half inch net heel – the most heel I’ve worn in months – but it’s not bothering me. Initially the top of the calf was snug on me, but it quickly stretched sufficiently that I don’t feel it anymore. Bonus: There is an adjustable buckle at the top. Mine are matte black. This glossy pic is the “mahogany.”

Verdict: YES! There was even room for my Correct Toes inside these gorgeous things!

Romika Fiona

Romika,  please make a quieter, taller version!

 

 

 

Romika “Fiona” at Nordie’s. 

Also in black. These look narrow, but feel huge inside! I swear they are made of Tardis! Unfortunately the zippers jingle when I walk (I’d have to swap the tab out), and the height of the calf is awkward and unflattering. They would be good under pants or jeans, but I pretty much only wear skirts.

 

 

NF JaneyNorth Face “Janey II Luxe” (Ordered from Nordstrom’s website)

I very much liked the short zipper at the inner ankle, which allowed for easy on-off. However, the toebox was narrow and stiffly structured. That’s a no.

 

 

 

Sorel Yaquina

 

Sorel “Yaquina”  (Ordered from Nordstrom’s website)

So close! The toebox is just a little too snug. I could feel it pressing against my big toe. If you have narrow feet, these will work beautifully for you. But not for me.

 

 

Final verdict:

The only pair that really worked for me 100% was the Born Kaila. I’m wearing the black ones right now, and I’m ordering a second pair of “mahogany.” The Keen “Delancy” and Sorel’s “Yaquina” were close… try them if you are, respectively, slim-calved and narrow-footed.

Hopefully this little review has helped you find some healthy boots, and more importantly, reminded you of what to look for when shopping. Please let me know if you find any other good candidates!

Anti-inflammatory HTPT – Smell like pancakes *and* feel better!

Last month I mentioned that I was having some trouble with my Arnica distributer (problem resolved – it’s in stock and ideal for bruises, sprains, and strains). I found a fantastic solution: Hai Tong Pi Tang. This is an ancient Chinese anti-inflammatory formula, containing frankincense, myrrh*, saffron, and a number of other herbs. The tincture is in an alcohol base, and made by a local acupuncturist. It comes in a spray bottle, so you can easily apply to any injured or inflamed area. External use only, and not on broken skin, please!

Here’s a fun bonus: The aromatic herbs combine to create a “pancake” scent. Much nicer than Ben-Gay or the usual herbal stinkiness! Watch out, though, you might get nibbled on by fans of maple syrup. :) 1oz bottle for $12, or 2 oz for $24.

frankincense resin

Frankincense resin – anti-inflamatory, anti-bacterial, and calming.

*Frankincense and myrrh have been “Moving” herbs in the Chinese pharmacopia for thousands of years. They are used to treat “stagnation,” which translates to muscular stiffness and pain, among other things. I was once on a cross-country flight when my back seized up. This was early in my acupuncture schooling, while I was still recovering from a traumatic car accident. Somehow I had neglected to pack any anti-inflammatory medication, and the flight attendants weren’t allowed to give me any. I was in so much pain, and I had hours left in that horrible seat! Then I remembered that I had brought along my herb samples to study for an identification test the next Monday. I ate the frankincense and myrrh samples – something I DON’T recommend, as they taste terrible! – and within 20 minutes my pain was gone. I’ve been a big fan ever since.

Arnica for bruises, sprains, strains

I generally don’t use topical stuff or supplements. Even when I have a good remedy, I have a bad tendency to forget to use it. Arnica is my big exception. Arnica montana is an herb that has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It makes a terrific topical oil for bruises, sprains, and strains. It’s fantastic for reducing inflammation in the area and speeding up healing.

arnicaoilI have a source for organic, locally-grown, hand-picked, hand-processed Arnica oil. It also contains a little St. Johns Wort for antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, and olive oil so it soaks into the skin. I prefer topical application to the pills, because it puts the medication where you need it, rather than spreading it out over the entire body, and because in high doses, taken internally, it can be toxic.

In all my years of martial arts, personal training, and running an acupuncture clinic (not to mention my own boo-boos), this is easily the best preparation I have found. It’s far superior to the multitude of diluted oils, creams and homeopathic pills generally available (most contain only small amounts of arnica), and that’s why it’s the only product I carry. I have bottles for $15 – swing by and pick one up! Use on unbroken skin only, please, and of course discontinue if your skin is irritated.

 

GB-21 (neck / shoulder tension, rebellious Qi)

Jian Jing (Shoulder Well) is a place many people tend to store their stress. Every day, people come into my office and complain about neck and “shoulder tension.” They really mean the trapezius and levator scapula muscles, not the shoulder joint. I’ve been saying for years that we need a better name for this part of the body, but “noulder” isn’t catching on (for obvious reasons!).

Referred pain and trigger points for the trapezius.

Referred pain and trigger points for the trapezius.

The trapezius is a big muscle, and it does a lot. Carrying heavy loads (especially unbalanced ones – so carry a small purse and use both straps of your backback!), working with your arms up (I’m talking to you, hair stylists!), or just general hunchiness over a computer… all are common causes of tension. The traps refer pain over the head to the eyebrow area, so shoulder tension can give you a severe frontal headache.

GB-21 also descends energy, so it’s good for rebellious rising Qi causing headaches, dizziness, heartburn, or vomiting.

GB-21 for relieving neck and shoulder tension.

 

Find GB-21 at the top of the upper thoracic area (aka “noulder”), halfway between the shoulder joint and the spine. Press firmly for 10-15 seconds with a healing intention. NOTE: Do not use GB-21 on pregnant women.

Also – look into some better ways to release your stress!

Chiropractic, a second look

Many D.C.s are great. If you are seeing a chiropractor and have had good success, fantastic! I am the last person to interfere with something that’s working. But if your “genius” has been “fixing” you for years and you are still the same as when you started… it might be time to rethink chiropractic.

I am NOT a fan of the subset of chiropractors who indiscriminately and overzealously use HVLA adjusting (high-velocity, low amplitude – you know, that violent cracking). Low-force chiropractic like Network, BGI, and activator is absolutely safe, and there are lots of other techniques besides HVLA that are fine. HVLA is appropriate when used to correct an acute injury, like putting a dislocated shoulder back in the socket, but it should not be a frequent therapy. Repetitive stress of supportive ligaments and the resulting inflammation will actually damage the joint.

My information comes from my time at chiropractic school (I completed the first year, including the entire series of cadaver dissection, with nearly straight A’s), my knowledge of functional anatomy as a certified personal trainer and amateur bodybuilder, my 10 year partnership with an Osteopathic medical doctor, my experience seeing patients who have been damaged by repetitive HVLA, and discussions with many physicians of all types. I welcome input from any chiropractor who is interested in a fact-based discussion.

Personally speaking, I suffered a terrible injury when my car was broadsided in the first week of chiropractic school. Their treatments were making me worse, and the more I learned in school, the more I understood why.

1) It doesn’t treat the cause of the problem. Bones don’t move by themselves. If a bone is repetitively out of place, it’s because there’s a tight muscle pulling it that way, or a weak muscle failing to hold the bone in place. Jamming the bones back will cause micro-tears of that tight muscle. It feels good immediately, because you get a nice adrenaline rush along with your temporary fix. An enlightened chiropractic teacher compared HVLA to the shock and rush you get from a shot of vodka. Addicting, but not necessarily good for you. Unfortunately, as soon as the muscle goes back to its usual tight, spasming self, the bone will be pulled back out of alignment. That’s why you need to go back to the chiropractor the next week. Acupuncture and medical massage use the neurological system to retrain those tight muscles, so real healing can begin.

2) Our ligaments and tendons are there for a reason. They provide much-needed joint stability and hold us together. Repetitive HVLA weakens them, and can destroy your joint integrity. We all know that an ankle, having been sprained three times, is pretty much guaranteed to twist again. You do not want that floppiness in your spine. You should not able to crack-crack-crack your back simply by stretching. That’s called hypermobility and it means you can move too much. If you have already been damaged by too much HVLA, you will need to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles to help support those loose ligaments and tendons. Hypermobile backs are more likely to suffer a serious injury if you have an accident (this is what happened to me!).

3) Your reflexes work against HVLA. Quickly yanking on a muscle – even a relaxed one – can cause damage and inflammation. There’s a built in protective reflex that tightens a muscle when it is suddenly lengthened. You can feel this: Fold your friend’s arm at the elbow and put your hand on their bicep. Straighten the arm quickly, and you can feel the bicep twitch under your hand. Now imagine that happening to an already-sore neck muscle being snapped.

4) The pop means nothing. The cracking sound doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been adjusted properly. It’s called cavitation, and it means that nitrogen gas, naturally occurring in your joint fluids, has been released. A similar thing happens when you open a can of soda. The sound means the bones have been rapidly separated (opening the joint space) and then have come back together. They may have come back to the same position, a better one, or a worse one. Misalignments, when corrected gently OMM style, do not make a cracking noise because the joint space is eased into the correct position rather than violently forced.

5) First, do no harm. Some chiropractors don’t bother to diagnose which level is dysfunctional. They just “shotgun” you by cracking all the vertebrae in your spine. Then they flip you over and do the other side. Why cause stress and create inflammation in a joint that’s working? Added bonus: Whenever you have inflammation, scar tissue forms. Trauma (HVLA) every week leads to more and more scar tissue building up. That’s the last thing you need when you’re already hurting.

6) With repetitive strong adjustments, your body becomes dependent on that input. In chiropractic school we joked about “welfare spines.” I had a discussion with an instructor who was brutally blunt about the temporary nature of his treatments. “Of course they have to come back. That’s how you buy your boat.” I found that model of “medicine” distasteful and unethical. I prefer to help the body heal itself. I love acupuncture and OMM because they truly correct how your muscles function.  Combined with proper exercise*, this creates a body that is strong and capable of bouncing back after a minor injury. I don’t want to see you every week for the rest of your life. I’d prefer to get you better and self-sufficient, and then stay in business by fixing all your friends and family. :)

BTW:  “But I can’t help it!” When you are out of alignment, your body will naturally feel compelled to snap itself back in place. After my injury I used to violently crack my neck and back all the time. It never really solved the problem, though… refer to point 1 above! The good news is that the desire to self-adjust melted away when my muscles – and more importantly, the neurons controlling those muscles – were corrected by acupuncture and Osteopathic medical massage.

*Exercise is essential to strengthen weak muscles, remind tight ones how to relax, and get all your muscle fibers integrated and working together. We are built to move! I know firsthand how pain makes you want to curl up on the couch and wait for it to heal, but the hard truth is that it won’t really repair until you put in the work. Get on an anti-inflammatory diet, see me for basic physical therapy-type exercises, and start walking! Better yet, see an expert personal trainer.

 

Du-4 (warm the Yang, lower back pain, low energy, infertility or ED)

Mingmen, the Gate of Life (AKA Du-4) is located in the center of the spine, just below the 2nd lumbar vertebrae. It’s used for building Yang, treating infertility or sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction, and for lower back pain or weakness.

Be careful stimulating this point if you are using acupressure, since it’s often tender.  Applying heat can be useful, especially If you tend to be cold. In my clinic, of course, I use acupuncture and an infrared therapy lamp. At home, you can direct a warm shower stream onto it or use a microwavable rice bag (I have them at the office if you need one).

Also good for lower back pain: LV-3, BL-40 and GB-34.

 

The Shoulder

Front view of the bones of the shoulder joint.

We can do amazing things with our arms. Lift them overhead, cross our chests, even link our hands at our spines. In fact, the shoulder is the most mobile joint in our bodies, thanks to its “ball and socket” configuration. See how the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (that triangular bone in your upper back) like a baseball into a glove? It can spin on the smooth, round surface to provide a spectacular range of motion.

The posterior (back) view of the shoulder.

Just as with national politics, there’s a trade-off between freedom and stability. The complexity of this joint makes it prone to a variety of injuries. Cartilage lines the articulating joint surfaces to create a smooth track for movement. If torn, it takes a long time to heal and may require surgery. There’s the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning. Inflammation here, called bursitis, can be very painful. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, and acupuncture are the best treatments (of course an anti-inflammatory diet will help, too). The well-known rotator cuff is actually a set of four deep muscles that stabilize the joint and work to rotate the humerus. Three (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor) can be seen in the drawing of the back view of the shoulder. The fourth, subscapularis, attaches to the front of the scapula and goes to the front of the humerus and the joint capsule. If torn, they will require rest and then specialized exercises to repair.

Overtop the rotator cuff is a layer of larger muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi & teres major (back), and the pectoralis muscles (front), and the deltoid (that roundy bit at the corner). These are your heavy duty movers. Ironically, since the lats and pecs both attach to the front of the humerus, unbalanced exercising can lead to an internally rotated (palms towards the back) shoulder, or “ape” posture. This is a great example of the importance of an intelligent, balanced workout plan. Then of course there are all the muscles that continue down the arm to control the elbow, including the triceps and biceps.*

If any of these muscles are dysfunctional, the bursa is irritated, or the cartilage is torn, you can have shoulder pain and loss of range of motion. Connective tissue can adhere, and scar tissue builds up over time. In extreme cases, you can develop Frozen Shoulder, which is exactly what it sounds like. It just won’t move. There are other causes of shoulder pain, too, ranging from nerves being pinched at the neck to gallbladder disease, but these musculoskeletal problems are the most common.
Acupuncture can reduce inflammation, increase bloodflow, relax tight muscles, and speed healing. I can also perform Osteopathic medical massage to break up scar tissue, release myofascial adhesions, and retrain the neurological system. This allows chronically tight muscles to return to normal. In most cases, therapeutic exercise is important for complete healing.

*Please note that I’m simplifying the anatomy quite a bit  for the purposes of this article. If you’re interested in all the marvelous details of our bodies, I highly recommend Netter’s Atlas.

LI-4 (headache, arm or facial pain, infection, hot flashes)

LI-4: Hegu. This point is astonishingly useful for a wide variety of complaints, but don’t use it if your patient is pregnant!

Large Intestine 4 is the acupoint most well-known by the general public. I first had it taught to me by a riding instructor when I was a kid living in rural Virginia. The name for this point is Hegu, “Joining Valley,” which is a reference to its anatomical location on the back of your hand, in that fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger. Feel around – it’ll be tender if you need it – but the easiest way to find it is to squeeze your thumb against your hand. The highest point of the muscle is where you want to press. Use firm, gentle pressure for 10-20 seconds with a healing intention. Try both sides.

Hegu, or Joining Valley, is a tremendously useful point. It moves stagnation, so you can use it to clear pain and stiffness anywhere in the upper body. Hegu will be particularly effective along the LI channel, which runs from the nail of the forefinger, along the forearm to the lateral (outside) elbow, up the arm and across the shoulder, eventually crossing the upper lip to end at the opposite side of the nose. Shoulder and elbow pain, carpal tunnel, and (of course) headaches are common uses. It’s specifically the Ruler of the Face, so it’s doubly powerful for frontal headaches, eye pain, sinus blockage, and tooth pain. It also releases heat and is part of a point combination for fighting viral or bacterial infections. If  you are prone to hot flashes, this point could be your new best friend. Also use LI-11, pictured here, to clear heat.

And by the way… the leading cause of headache is dehydration. Drink a glass of water!

WARNING: Because Hegu is a moving point, DO NOT use it if you are pregnant or bleeding. It can induce a miscarriage or increase blood loss. On the other hand, if you are overdue and want to evict your baby, this is a great way to do so, along with some other points (assuming everyone is healthy and it’s not a complicated pregnancy!). It will usually increase menstrual flow if the patient is having her period. If you have a severe headache paired with sudden loss of motor control or speech, get to a hospital immediately. DO NOT use LI-4 until you are sure you are not having a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding inside the brain). This goes for head injuries, too!