Furthermore, painkillers do not get at the root of the problem; they just kill the pain. Headaches in fact are so common – 10 million people in the UK get regular or frequent headaches – that they may be seen as normal, but from my perspective they are a sign of an underlying problem which needs addressing; if you are a healthy person, you do not get frequent headaches. This is not to say there is anything seriously wrong, but nevertheless if you are getting a lot of headaches your body is complaining about something. Using painkillers is a way of ignoring that message, which may be OK short term, but is not a wise long term strategy, and not just because you might end up with medication overuse headaches.
For one thing, using painkillers in this way can encourage us in a lifestyle which is unbalanced and unhealthy. Rather than killing the pain – or at least as well as killing the pain – we need to consider what the pain is telling us. Of course it is not necessarily always obvious just what the pain is telling us; I consider an important part of my job as a traditional acupuncturist is in understanding the patterns of disharmony a patient is displaying and sharing that perspective with them, so that together we can understand what is likely to be behind their symptoms. Acupuncture treatment, as the NICE guidelines mentioned above acknowledge, is effective in treating at least some forms of chronic headache and migraine; it does this because it provides a way of addressing underlying imbalances in the individual’s Qi (to use the traditional Chinese term), and if necessary supports them to make a few adjustments in the way they live so that harmony is not lost.