What part? Back of the head, near the
neck? Top of the head? Forehead? Feeling a tight band wrapped
around the whole darn thing? Is it pulsing and throbbing, sharp and
stabbing? Maybe you just have a dull empty feeling going on deep
inside your melon.
Each of these headaches is recognized in and treated by
Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you present in a TCM clinic with
the chief complaint--or even an associated complaint--of
"headache," the questions will roll forth to more fully understand
What does it all mean? Isn't there just an acupuncture point
equivalent to Excedrin? Yes and no. There are some acupoints that
are indicated for basically any type of headache, and it will
probably be effective to some extent. But, if we can diagnose
thetypeof headache then we can select more specific points that
address both the current pain in the head and also the root of the
Here's a breakdown of some of the common types of headaches in
TCM, what's causing them, and how your acupuncturist might treat
The Full Frontal Headache
It hurts across your forehead.
Sometimes feels warm, too.
The Vertex Headache
It hurts on the top of your head.
Sometimes it's throbbing, too.
The Occipital Headache
It hurts low down in the back of your
head into the neck. You're probably coming down with a cold,
There are more, but that's enough for today. If you have an
empty feeling headache, a Kidney deficiency is likely involved. If
your whole head feels like it's being wrapped up and squeezed, we
call that "tai yin."
For information, make your appointment at the Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine clinic now. :) The Whole Health Center is on our
NUHS campus at 200 E.
Roosevelt Rd in Lombard; you can schedule an appointment at
Or, at least you should be, because that's basically
your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture
manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the
primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source."
Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the
spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping
things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty
important...and it is.
The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers
call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney
meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess
from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too
bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to
needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this
is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there
are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would
certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points.
But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading
See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select
KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases
of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.
Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive
patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears,
and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to
stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it
bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one
patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach
the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is
still so painfully fresh?
Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an
old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a
General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and
visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the
General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can
aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As
you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist
simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that
is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.
"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well,
OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we
can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and
water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the
proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that
Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped
itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive,
because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does
not make the other answer wrong.
Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If
energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right
answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the
right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same
time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind
myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of
"everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely
ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the
medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to
the needle the patient.
To put this into action, consider some of the new
ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody
wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it.
Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal
plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to
treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now
that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a
day at the spa.
And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1,
or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!
"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles,"
I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who
originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations
and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole
acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the
theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do
it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my
growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond
just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates
something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still
help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me
in the first place.
"Moving blood and qi," "balancing
energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are
intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If
we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly,
then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science
in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power
to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun
Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the
fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient,
more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon
Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being
something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is
just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous
to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the
first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was
sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental
What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class,
and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of
Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the
mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings
for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon
= 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.
Yes, he explained, some points are located right
beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and
eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when
energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and
dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at
a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or
vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....
Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures
harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers
themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's
understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many
acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.
And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer?
Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I
took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations
considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern
science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time
again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of
traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who
doesn't like being told, "You're right"?
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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