Acupuncture and Headaches

Long before randomized controlled trials and rigorous testing, adept practitioners of the art of acupuncture were providing people with pain relief for nearly two millennia.

Over the past few decades, in the United States, acupuncture has been tested and found to effectively assist in treating migraine headaches.

The more common tension headache which causes mild to moderate pain can occur frequently enough in certain people that they require treatment. However, migraines can be debilitating and severe, causing other more intense symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. Usually both are treated with over the counter or prescription medications.

All over the world, acupuncture has been tested and studied as an effective means of pain relief for migraines and tension headaches. Numerous case studies can be found showing acupuncture as an effective measure to treat both types of headaches. These are only a few:

  • From dukehealth.org – In spite of some conflicting reports about the efficacy of acupuncture, approximately a decade before the writing of this referenced article, the National Institute of Health recommended it as a viable treatment for chronic headaches. A Duke anesthesiologist, Ton Joo Gan, MD lead the analysis of the literature and conducted a highly comprehensive review of available data which used only the most rigorously executed trials. Results of the review showed acupuncture more effective over medication and over sham acupuncture, amongst adults with chronic headaches and tested for more that four weeks. In one group of 17 studies, 62% reported headache relief from acupuncture, as opposed to 45% taking medications. The acupuncture patients also reported better overall well being, as opposed to the medication group. In 14 studies, 53% responded well to acupuncture over 45% receiving sham treatments.
  • From webmd.com – British Medical Journal, March 15, 2004 published a study in which 401 adults who suffered chronic headaches (at least two a month) and mostly migraines, were randomly divided into two treatment groups. One group received up to 12 acupuncture sessions during a period of three months and standard medical care. The other group received standard medical care alone. A year later the results showed that the acupuncture group experienced 22 fewer days with headaches, used 15% less medication, made 25% less visits to their doctor and took 15% less sick days. The researchers said that the only limitation was that there was no sham acupuncture control group, therefore leading to the possibility that there is a placebo effect. However, other researchers say that there are enough placebo-controlled studies showing acupuncture is superior to a placebo (sham acupuncture).
  • From dukehealth.org – Duke researchers found that 62 percent of acupuncture patients reported headache relief compared to only 45 percent of people taking medication. Watch the associated video at the referred link.
  • From jamanetwork.com – In a review funded by the National Institute of Health, the raw data from 29 of 31 eligible randomized controlled trials was gathered and meticulously scrutinized, with a total of 17 922 patients analyzed. In short, the research showed about 50% of the nearly 18,000 patients showed significant improvement with acupuncture, as opposed to 30% in the control groups. Note: The conditions were not all migraine related. (The details of this research can be found at well.blogs.newyorktimes.com)

It has taken some time, but western medicine is acknowledging the efficacy of this age old treatment. Acupuncture is a valuable addition to good holistic health practice.

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