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Acupuncture Can Significantly Reduce Chronic Headaches

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 Migraine Headache Brain Illustration

Patients who received true acupuncture had headaches decrease from 20 days to 7 days per month, while those who received superficial acupuncture saw a decrease from 23 days to 12 days per month.

A new study investigates whether acupuncture can reduce headaches

According to a study recently published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, acupuncture may help people with chronic tension-type headaches feel less pain.

The most common sign of tension-type headaches is mild to moderately intense pressing or tightening sensation on both sides of the head. Physical exercise does not make these headaches worse, and they do not come with nausea. When they happen at least 15 days a month, tension-type headaches are classified as chronic.

“Tension-type headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and people who have a lot of these headaches may be looking for alternatives to medication,” said study author Ying Li, MD, Ph.D., of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China. “Our study found that acupuncture reduces the average number of headache days per month for those struggling with these painful and disruptive headache attacks.”

218 participants with a diagnosis of chronic tension-type headaches participated in the research. They suffered from headaches of the tension-type on average 22 days per month for an average of 11 years. True acupuncture or superficial acupuncture was given to participants at random. True acupuncture treatments involved producing a deqi sensation, which entailed inserting and manipulating a needle into the body to achieve a tingling, numbness, or heaviness sensation. In order to prevent causing the deqi feeling, the superficial treatments had a shallower body penetration. Both groups got two or three sessions a week for a total of 20 sessions over the course of two months, after which they continued to be observed for another six months.

The main result measured in the study was a reduction of at least 50% in the number of days with headaches. All participants had clinic visits every four weeks. They also used headache diaries to record their symptoms and use of acute medications.

At the end of the study, 68% of the people receiving true acupuncture reported at least a 50% reduction in the monthly number of headache days compared to 50% of the people who received superficial acupuncture.

Researchers found the number of monthly headache days gradually decreased after treatment, in both those who received true acupuncture treatments and superficial acupuncture treatments. For those who received true acupuncture, headache days decreased from 20 days per month at the beginning of the study to seven days per month by the end of the study. For those who received superficial acupuncture, headache days decreased from 23 days per month at the beginning of the study to 12 days per month at the end of the study.

The only side effects from the treatment were mild and did not require treatment.

“While this study showed that acupuncture can reduce headaches, more research is needed to determine the longer-term effectiveness of acupuncture and how it compares to other treatment options,” said Li. “In comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”

A limitation of the study was that the research was conducted in one hospital, so the results may not apply to all populations.

The study was funded by the Department of Science and Technology of Sichuan Province and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Reference: “Acupuncture for Patients With Chronic Tension-Type Headache: A Randomized Controlled Trial” by Hui Zheng, Tao Gao, Qian-Hua Zheng, Ling-Yun Lu, Ting-Hui Hou, Shu-Sen Zhang, Si-Yuan Zhou, Xin-Yu Hao, Lu Wang, Ling Zhao, Fan-Rong Liang and Ying Li, 22 June 2022, Neurology.
DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200670

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