Acupuncture may help people suffering from chronic tension-type headaches

Acupuncture may reduce headaches for people with chronic tension headaches, according to a study published in the June 22, 2022 online issue of Neurologythe medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Tension headaches are usually accompanied by a feeling of pressure or tension on both sides of the head with a mild to moderate intensity. These headaches are not aggravated by physical activity and do not include nausea. Tension headaches are considered chronic if they occur at least 15 days a month.

Tension 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. Our research found that acupuncture reduces the average number of headache days per month for those struggling with these painful and disruptive headache attacks.”

Ying Li, MD, PhD, study author, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China

The study included 218 people who were diagnosed with chronic tension headaches. They had chronic tension headaches for an average of 11 years and had headaches on average for 22 days a month. The participants were randomly assigned to either real acupuncture or superficial acupuncture. Real acupuncture treatments involve achieving a deqi sensation, where a needle is placed and moved into the body to produce a tingling, numb, or heavy feeling. The superficial treatments had a smaller depth in the body to avoid the deqi feeling. Both groups received two or three sessions per week, for a total of 20 sessions, for two months and were followed for an additional six months.

The main outcome 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 acute medication use.

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

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

The only side effects of 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,” Li said. “When comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”

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

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


American Academy of Neurology

Reference magazine:

Zheng, H., et al. (2022) Acupuncture for patients with chronic tension headache: a randomized controlled trial. Neurology.

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