The case of the 38 year long headache

Yes, you read that right.

A headache that lasted 38 years. 


This is the story of a lovely 47 year old woman that messaged me on Facebook asking for an acupuncture appointment. I always like to know what it is that someone wants to treat before coming in, so I asked her what she was looking to address and she said headaches. 

I've treated headaches and migraines before, so I looked forward to helping her. 

As with every new patient, I had her fill out a health history and then we had a lengthy talk about these headaches.  They started when she was nine years old and they start in the back of her head and shoot towards the front ending up on her forehead above her brow.  She rarely ever wakes up with them but as the day goes by, the headache starts to creep up.  They happen everyday, are nagging, relentless and it was clear she was fed up with them. 

I asked her how she's been managing the pain for this long and she said she's been taking over the counter ibuprofen. She had seen a chiropractor for a while and it would help, but the pain relief would be short lived.  I also asked her if there was any incident that she could attribute these headaches to and she said nothing that she could think of.  I also asked a few questions to rule out the recommendation of a neurologist. 

As an acupuncturist, I will take information from a patient's health history along with checking the tongue and taking the person's pulse to come up with a diagnostic "pattern".  People with a certain set of symptoms typically fall into a pattern.  Once I know the pattern, I can choose from a group of acupuncture points to treat this person's pattern.  

The odd thing about her was that she wasn't fitting neatly into the pattern that I would have expected her to.  Typically, someone with this pattern would have headaches (check), either an irregular period or a really painful one (nope), insomnia from time to time (nope), gets angry pretty easily (nope), sighing (nope), moody? (she said not really but is known to be stubborn..ok I'll take it..check!)   There might even be purple veins underneath the tongue and she didn't have that either. To be honest, this left me scratching my head.  I went with the initial diagnosis and treated her anyway.  I added a few points on her shoulders since this typically helps ease headaches in general. 

I checked in with her in a few days and asked how she was doing. She said she felt good, but still had the headaches. We discussed expectations of acupuncture on her first visit. If she's had this problem for 38 years, I asked that she give me at least 3 sessions to make some kind of difference.  She totally understood and was game to give it some time to work. 

On her next visit, I decided to continue to treat her on her pattern, but this time I wanted to take a closer look at her head, neck and shoulders.  Maybe this wasn't just a pattern issue, maybe it was mostly physical. Lying on her stomach, with her head in the face rest is when I saw it, her right shoulder blade was sticking out like the lifted hood of a car.

I palpated (touching to find tender, painful areas) the whole shoulder blade and neck and she had a lot of tenderness.  I asked her if she had been in any car accidents. She said she was in one a few years ago but it was nothing major, but now that she thought of it, when she 9, she was on the top bunk bed playing with her sister when her sister pushed her and she fell off, landing on the floor.  She's had the headaches ever since. 

This changed everything for how I was going to treat her. First, let's look back at where she said her headaches were.  They shoot from the back to the front and are a little across her forehead. 


The pic on the left looks describes that same exact pain pattern.   The areas shaded red are the areas that indicate where the pain is. So, the X's, are where the knots in those muscles are, and the red is where a person would feel the pain being created by those knots. 

Over the following 3 visits, I started to release all knots in all the muscles that were pulling her shoulder blade out of place and therefore, causing the headaches.  Basically, what had happened was that her shoulder blade muscles must have been in contraction and pulling at her neck all these years. 

I'm happy to report that the treatments worked and the headaches are now gone. Her shoulder blade is also back to normal and isn't sticking out anymore.

She had a total of 5 weekly visits and one more that she scheduled after a trip to Europe. I knew that a long plane ride could set her back so I asked that she come in regardless of pain, so that we could treat to prevent those headaches from coming back.  On returning from Europe she only had two minor headaches and she said they were "nothing". I took this to mean, it wasn't anything like the headaches she's been experiencing her whole life.  

She's happy she finally found the solution to a life long problem and I'm happy to have helped another person be pain free. 

To schedule you're acupuncture session, with me Lorraine, click below.