Tackle headaches the TCM way

Traditional Chinese medicine herbs can help

Headaches are pretty common.

While popping paracetamol helps, it is also important to understand what is causing your headaches.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), headaches are symptomatic of root ailments that are not necessarily located in the head itself. Instead, headaches can arise from imbalances in other organ systems in the body.

Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic physician Yu Jiexin explained more.

Why do headaches occur?

According to TCM, the most general causes of headaches are either malnourishment or blockages/stasis, when external or internal factors impede the flow of meridians, disrupt nutrient supplies to the head and/or block the orifices.

That said, as TCM considers each patient a unique individual, the causes and precise details of headaches differ from person to person.

Headaches should be diagnosed and treated according to an individual's conditions, especially when it comes to chronic and recurrent headaches related to migraines, trauma or of a neurovascular origin.

When should someone seek medical attention?

If the pain disrupts your daily routine or if the headache is coupled with dizziness, blurred vision, numbness in the limbs and a sudden change in your movements or emotional state.

What are some common lifestyle causes of headaches?

Irregular sleep, emotional stress, excessive drinking or smoking, unbalanced diets and irregular meals may all contribute to headaches.

Other pre-existing chronic conditions such as hypertension may also lead to headaches.

Who is most prone to getting headaches and why?

Studies have shown that women are more prone to headaches than men - migraines affect six times as many women as it does men. But the reason behind this is unclear.

There are certain groups of people who should be more aware of their symptoms.

For instance, headaches in women may be related to changes to their bodies during a menstrual cycle or pregnancy. The elderly or those with pre-existing conditions also need to take extra care if they develop a headache as it may be a sign of a more severe underlying medical condition.

What TCM remedies are there for headaches?

TCM recipes and treatments have to be administered according to an individual's conditions, so patients should seek medical advice from a licenced practitioner beforehand.

That said,these are the TCM ingredients generally used in headache treatments:


  • Gastrodia tuber and gambir vine stem to calm the liver and subdue yang
  • Baical skullcap root and gardenia fruit to clear and purge fire in the liver
  • Achyranthes root to direct blood flow downwards
  • Eucommia bark and mulberry mistletoe to nourish the liver and kidney
  • Tuber fleeceflower stem and poria to nourish the heart and calm the spirit
  • Motherwort herb to ease blood stasis

Supraorbital pain

  • Sichuan lovage and dahurian angelica root to dispel wind and stop pain
  • Chrysanthemum and gypsum to dispel wind and clear heat

Sensation of distention in the head

  • Rehmannia rhizome and wolfberry to nourish the kidney and replenish yin
  • Cornus fruit to nourish the liver
  • Ginseng, Chinese yam, angelica root and licorice root to replenish qi and nourish blood and ensure the storage of essence in the kidney
  • Eucommia bark to invigorate the kidney and strengthen the lumbar

Sensation of heaviness in the head

  • Young angelica root, Sichuan lovage, Jehol ligustium rhizome and vitex fruit to induce sweating and restore the normal flow of yang qi


This article first appeared in Shape (