Headache after Acupuncture Treatment

Today I had acupuncture for the 2nd time (1st was earlier this week). Both times I felt better after- more alert/alive and not so tired out. But today I developed a headache about an hour later. I tried points I've known myself to help in the past (acupressure) to relieve it but they didn't help so I ended up taking ibuprofen. It helped after I slept 3 hrs. but now that I am awake again, for maybe an hour, it's returning. I do not get headaches a lot.

I went to try acupuncture for, mainly, stress/tension in life affecting my back (partly due to physical work I do, partly due to being stressed out emotionally), and hormonal problems causing menorrhagia. I also asked for any help to lose weight because I literally have to exercise an hour or more daily and eat next to nothing to maintain (and I need to lose). I mentioned to the acupuncturist I was extremely thirsty and craving sweets after first session- he said it's a good sign (?) and now, tonight, I am still terribly thirsty no matter how much water I drink (but not craving sweets). By the way, I am not a chronic complainer/hypochondriac and never visit doctors. Just want to feel better to perform my strenuous work. Thanks for any insight.


Comments

Chad Dupuis's picture

It is difficult to comment

It is difficult to comment on your particular case without knowing all of the details, but I can give you my general impression. There are three basic reasons why someone might feel worse after acupuncture (including headaches, dizziness, aggravation of symptoms, etc.). The reasons are a "healing response", overtreatment or incorrect treatment.

First, there is the idea of the "healing" response. This is an idea that practitioners subscribe to in varying degrees, but essentially it looks at some temporary side effects or aggravations of symptoms as a positive step in the rebalancing of the body. Headaches for example, are not uncommon when people are detoxing from drugs, foods or even lifestyle habits and acupuncture can quicken the detoxification of the body. This also holds true when certain areas of tension in the body are released, where people may experience some pain or tension in other areas as the body rebalances. Whether or not your subscribe to the idea of a healing reaction, the bottom line is that you have a headache, for example, after most treatments, or your symptoms are consistiently aggravated after most treatments, you are probably being overtreated and/or incorrectly treated. If it is not a consistient reaction, then you will have to trust yourself and discuss openly with your practitioner as to whether or not you feel it is an appropriate response. Many times you may have to look at changes in other signs and symptoms and balance them against any side effects you may experience from your acupuncture treatment. If the signs and symptoms are overwhelmingly improving, then I would imagine that any adverse effects of the treatments would stop after 4-6 treatments.

The second option is being overtreated. This is somewhat more common in TCM style techniques, particularly from practitioners who use strong needling and manipulative techniques than it is for "lighter" styles such as those common in Japanese acupuncture - however, it can happen in any style of acupuncture, bodywork, energywork or herbal medicine. This again, is a judgement call on your part and involves a discussion with your acupuncturist. This is why it is very important to be honest with your acupuncturist when you have follow up intakes. Even if the majority of your symptoms are improving and overall you feel better, pointing out your negative experiences is important as it helps the acupuncturist to adjust the treatment (maybe lighten the techniques, or change some of the points).

The third option, then, is an incorrect treatment. This can be just a poor choice of treatment points, or an incomplete diagnosis. This is another reason why it is important to speak with your practitioners about all of your positive and negative symptoms. With all of the feedback it is easier for the practitioner to modify the treatment or even change the initial diagnosis. An example which could lead to a headache would be misdiagnosing a condition as solely deficient when it has strong excessive components. If you were to strongly build the persons energy first without clearing excess symptomology they could experience an increase in symptoms and/or have too much energy rising up leading to symptoms such as a headache or dizziness.

Well, I hope you find this information helpful and that your condition improves. My feeling is that the headaches and other symptoms such as excessive thirst are temporary and will go away after the first few treatments, but you should trust yourself as to what is natural and discuss this openly with your practitioner. If you continue to experience the headaches or other strong symptoms consistiently even after speaking with your practitioner, you may need to consider a different style of acupuncture and/or a different practitioner.

Yin Yang House Acupuncture & Energy Healing Clinic

spoochy's picture

 Hello. Mr. Dupuis, I am

 Hello. Mr. Dupuis, I am interested in your analysis of the three reasons why symptoms may increase with acupuncture.  I have started treatments, in June of 2008, after waking the morning of November 11, 2006 with a strange tension-type headache and balance problems. No one has been able to provide answers or help, including two chiropractors (traditional and NUCCA), a chiro-neurologist, an alternative MD, a standard neurologist (who wanted to shoot cortisone into my neck, no thanks), a dizziness specialist, and others.   Symptoms wax and wane, but never go away. They are there 24/7. 

I had my first acupuncture treatment in early June of 2008. I noticed increased symptoms immediately while walking out to my car, and did inform the practitioner.  Symptoms slowly lessened over about a week. I waited on further treatments until after a vacation. Right before the next treatment, which wasn almost a month later, symptoms were the best they've been in a long time. Treatment #2 was on July 2. Two hours after the treatment symptoms worsened again. Again some days/times are worse than others; it is difficult for me to say definitively that it was the acupuncture that worsened things, but it IS suspicious. 

I had treatment #3 on July 7. I didn't notice dramatic worsening, but symptoms were still somewhat worse already before this third treatment. I have been informing my practitioner of the increase in symptoms. I just had treatment #4 yesterday. After the needles were removed, I noticed how stiff and sore my arms were. When I sat up, the head was awful and continues to be pretty bad today. I told my practitioner yesterday right when I sat up; he acknowledged my words but didn't give me any feedback. The head tension is terrible today in the temples; it's even into the jaw a bit and I feel my eyes working hard. My head is so heavy. This is how I felt when the syndrome initially occurred; I spend about a year feeling this way before something (who knows) started improving things somewhat in the last 6 months or so).

I have read how safe acupuncture is. My head/balance problems have already made me feel like a weirdo; now I REALLY feel special.

Question:  What the heck is going on; am I that strange that I'm the one case of someone harmed by acupuncture? and.. Question:  Do I continue with acupuncture? Do I find someone else?

Thanks... Wendy

Chad Dupuis's picture

I recently treated a case

I recently treated a case very similar to yours and the patient is now doing well.  They, like you, had seen all kinds of specialists, eye/ear folks, neurologists, many doctors, massage therapy, physical therapy, and I seem to remember they may have even seen another acupuncturist before me.  Anyhow, it was a strange mix of symptoms related to vertigo, but atypical in many aspects.  It would, also like you, wax and wane, but was pretty much always there.  Anyhow, we did somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-10 treatments about a week apart and the symptoms had lessened considerably - to the point where they were basically a non-issue.  We had moved appointments to 3 weeks apart and were just checking to see that the symptoms would stay away.  At some point the patient had decided to go see a chiropractor during these 3 weeks (they still had other neck/shoulder tension related issues to resolve and they were a regular user of massage therapy and other forms of medicine).  After a few visits to the chiropracter, they had all the symptoms back nearly to the degree when they originally came in.  After a few more visits to me (and stopping chiropractic), they were fine again and have continued to be fine for months now.

Issues like yours are almost always related to the nerves in the neck in some way - either completely or at least involved.  The neck, however, is very touchy to treat and nerve related imbalances can respond very poorly to being over treated or the use of incorrect methods.  It is very easy to aggravate these conditions with even self-help techniques such as stretching - let alone incorrect acupuncture, or other methods.  Until the pressure in the area is resolved and the structure is aligned, few things help.  Acupuncture does a very good job of removing inflammation and tension in areas without overt force - so it is generally used very well to this end.

It is difficult to comment directly on your case.  As I said, these conditions tend to be touchy and can easily be aggravated - which isn't necessarily a judgement of the techniques used or the practitioner, just the reality of the condition.  After a few treatments, however, you should be noticing at least some minor improvement and this appears to not be the case.  While I would not expect a full resolution after 4 treatments, you should not be getting worse after each treatment.  If there is someone else in the area, particularly someone that also incorporates tuina (massage) and/or cupping that would probably be better for you.  As a general rule you should feel considerable change within 4-10 treatments, preferably sooner.  If your condition is getting aggravated from the treatments, it will probably not improve - aggravation = inflammation and increased nerve activity, which will lead to poor results from treatment.

spoochy's picture

 Thank you very much sir

 Thank you very much sir for taking the time to respond!  I left a phone message yesterday with my provider that symptoms were worse; if I don't get a callback I think I'll cancel altogether. From your replies I am coming to realize how important the dialogue between us is... and although I received input during the initial first-visit consultation, I'm NOT getting much feedback on what he thinks is going on now. I think what I will do is explain that I am concerned, and ask for more feedback about his thoughts on the matter, including what approach he's taking (as much as a lay person like myself can understand), and prognosis. If he appears to have a plan in place I will give it one more try; if he appears to be winging it, OR cannot seem to explain his rationale, I will move on... I think I need to find someone who does more than nod when I explain that it has worsened. I need... discussion.

The part about your patient getting worse when ceasing treatments and continuing to see a chiropractor, and also about self-treatment possibly exacerbating the symptoms, is a bit worrisome. I do stretches and some yoga.  I also recently uncovered some information that the problem might be related to weaning off an SSRI (very slowly) in 2006. (My acupuncturist does know about that.) Wish me luck...

deb0rian's picture

How are you feeling

How are you feeling today,  spoochy? Did anything helped you so far?

I have exactly the same symptoms started 2 months ago, same doctors - can't help. Doing acupunture. Helps for a while, then comes back. Headaches after every treatment. :/

Len1984's picture

Any updates?

~I and currently experiencing very similar symptoms as Spoocy, with the same results after accupuncture/accupressure.  Also the chiropractor makes them much worse almost instantly.  Anyone have any updates on this? Spoochy or deb0rian???? I would greatly appreciate the help!!! :)