Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Cluster Headaches


Cluster Headaches:
A Simple Case of Qi and Blood Stagnation?
by Ross Rosen, L.Ac.

Sheila is a 28 year old female who has been experiencing cluster headaches for the past 11 years. Her headaches begin every year in late July and generally last until the end of autumn. During this period she experiences headaches multiple times per day, usually worse in the late evening and early morning.

Her headaches are stabbing and sharp and were rated a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. This past year she was having headaches all the way through the winter months. She first called my office in January while in the middle of an episode and I was able to see her that same day.

During the evaluation she revealed that she had been in numerous motor vehicle accidents in which she sustained injuries to her head, including concussions. She was quick to mention that all the western doctors that she informed of this fact discounted it. They assured her that her head trauma years before was not related to her present condition. Later in the interview she mentioned that her major car accident occurred in the month of July. She believed strongly that her accidents had something to do with her headaches and was relieved when I agreed.

Initial Visit, Diagnosis and Treatment

Sheila presented as an aggressive young woman with a "shouting" voice. Her pain was located on the left side of her head and was fixed in location on the Gallbladder channel just posterior to extra point Tai Yang. She also revealed that she experienced neck and occipital pain, both also on the Gallbladder meridian. Sheila reported very few other symptoms, except for a history of genital herpes, acne on her face and upper back, and a lack of appetite. I diagnosed her primarily with local qi and blood stagnation in the Gallbladder channel. The acupoints chosen on the first treatment were Ren 17, right HT 8 ashi, left Gallbladder 34, and Yamomoto New Scalp Acupuncture point Yin A. After the insertion of the needles the pain had disappeared.

By the next visit (3 days later) Sheila was still pain free. Sheila had no headaches for the next 3 weeks (with acupuncture treatments two times per week). I prescribed Tong Qiao Huo Sheila ue Tang powder during this time.

At the four week mark, Sheila was experiencing a great deal of stress in her job and well as relationship trouble with her boyfriend. Her headaches were absent, but she did have some twinges in her head and was fearful of their return. On two occasions she felt a mild aching at the same location while reading at night in her bed.

The Emotional Cause Emerges

Sheila revealed a lot of new information when we talked about her stress. She admitted to a great deal of unexplainable anger over the past few years . She also admitted to being unable to cry for 10 years. She was not able to express any emotion other than anger. She recounted a very painful childhood during which she cried every day. At age 18, she decided not to cry anymore and completely suppressed that emotion. Since then, anger has been the predominant theme. She also mentioned that the problems with her boyfriend revolved around her not being able to be emotionally intimate. She was unable to relax during sexual activity, and thus prevented from achieving an orgasm.

During the treatments, I decided to expand my treatment strategy to harmonize her Liver and calm her spirit. While continuing to use right HT 8, I added right HT 7, left SJ 3, left Liver 3, and right Gallbladder 41. After insertion of the needles I asked her if she felt anything. She said she felt like crying (but she suppressed it in the office). Later the next day she had an emotional catharsis and cried for over an hour. Afterwards, she reported feeling "great" and "much relieved."

During the following visit, she divulged some more information about her health history. The reason for her painful childhood was an emotionally unstable mother who traumatized her and her siblings. The stories were horrifying. She has not spoken to her mother in many years.

With acupuncture treatments, I added points to strengthen the earth element (Spleen 3 and Stomach 36). To solidify her treatment, I prescribed TCM Formulas liquid combination of Si Jun Zi Tang (1/3), Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (1/3) and Shu Gan Wan (1/3). Since then, Sheila has not experienced even a twinge of a headache, and has been able to gain greater intimacy and emotional expression.


My original thoughts on Sheila had been Gallbladder channel stagnation due to local physical trauma. Over the course of the first 4 weeks and with Sheila deciding to no longer withhold vital pieces of her past and intimate life with me, I was able to understand her case more completely. While the trauma most definitely was real and caused the location of the stagnation to be localized to the left Gallbladder channel, the catalyst for her problem was much deeper. Her weak earth element (the inability to be nourished by her own mother as a child) had allowed the wood (Liver/Gallbladder) to become excessive. And the suppression of the metal element (refusing to cry) coupled with metal not being nourished by earth, left wood unchecked across the control cycle. Thus, the Liver/Gallbladder became dominant in her expressions (anger, shouting voice, aggressive behavior, inability to relax/flow, genital herpes, cluster headaches). The most natural place for any physical symptom of stagnation to appear is the place where there has been prior injury/trauma and compromised circulation ---- the Gallbladder channel of her head. By also strengthening the Spleen/Stomach and Lung systems, we were able to achieve lasting results.

Ross Rosen, L.Ac.
New York / New Jersey

Join the PulseMed mailing list



All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International