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Because acupuncture is known for helping migraines and sinus headaches, I often see patients complaining of these complaints. 

A few years ago, a very pleasant lady was telling me about her migraines. I asked about how the headaches started. Every time she began to describe the onset of the headaches, her eyes became moist. She tried in vain to prevent this reaction. She would pause, smile, dab her eyes with a tissue and resume her story. The tearful response would recur as soon as she began to tell me how her headaches began.

For many conditions, if not all, there is a connection between the physical symptoms and an emotional experience. In some cases, this link is not particularly obvious. In others, such as for the lady mentioned above, the connection is overt.

As her story unfolded, she related that the headaches began about six years previously. She had sought the care of a number of doctors with no improvement. I asked her what else happened six years ago.  She explained that her husband had “been taken from me unexpectedly.” When she told of his passing, the tears became a torrent. 

It was not too difficult for us both to see that there may be a connection between the pain of the headaches that she experienced and the emotional feelings of grief and hurt that began with the loss of her closest companion of 30 years.

Emotions play a role in pain of all descriptions. You probably know someone that always seems to be very content emotionally. You may also know someone that seems to be continually unhappy or depressed. Chances are the perpetually positive person complains less of pain or physical ailments than the discontented person.

One might think, “Well of course the person with all the pain is unhappy.” That is definitely true, but it also works the other way around. A positive emotional state results in less pain. The same neurological processes that generate an internal feeling of contentment and happiness inhibit feelings of pain.  Conversely, a person experiencing significant negative emotions is likely to feel more pain.

The state of your emotions depends in large part upon various chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. These unique chemical messengers act to transmit specific sensations through the central nervous system. It has been found that if the chemicals are not present in balanced concentrations in the brain, a person will experience imbalanced emotions and impaired neurological functioning.

One example of this effect is the action of the chemical serotonin. Serotonin is involved with many different types of neurological processes, but one key role is related to the feelings of joy and contentment. If the level of serotonin falls, a person tends to feel more despondent and generally has a more negative outlook on their circumstances. 

Although they don’t intend to respond this way, a person with severe serotonin deficiency may have a difficult time being enthusiastic about anything. It may seem that they see the world through mud-colored glasses.

Serotonin is so important in the neurological processes affecting mood that many pharmacological products for treating depression and mood disorders are primarily intended to increase the amount of circulating serotonin in our brain.

In some people these drugs also result in the patient feeling less chronic pain. The discussion of these anti-depressant drugs is far too complex for this column, so any specific questions should be discussed with your primary healthcare provider.

The good news is that there are many ways to naturally increase the level of circulating serotonin that don’t involve taking prescription drugs. Certainly, there are some people that have such a significant chemical imbalance that prescription medications may be the only practical solution, but for many there are some alternative approaches that can provide benefits. 

For example, the lady in this story was able to alleviate her headaches and overcome her grief without taking prescription medication.

Acupuncture has been shown in numerous studies to have a very positive effect on a wide range of hormones and neurotransmitters.  In some ways, it seems like acupuncture is acting to reset the nervous system and brain to a more normal state to alleviate pain and restore more normal hormone function.  This can have a beneficial effect on emotional health.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com

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