MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Acupuncture may reduce headaches for people who suffer from a chronic and painful form of the condition, according to a new study. Researchers found the traditional Chinese treatment in which needles are inserted into the skin reduces tension-type headaches by half for many patients.
Tension headaches most often involve a pressing or tightening feeling on both sides of the head with mild to moderate intensity. Luckily, study authors note these headaches don’t worsen with physical activity and don’t cause nausea. Doctors consider tension-type headaches chronic when they occur at least 15 days per month.
“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,” says study author Dr. Ying Li of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in a media release.
“Our study found that acupuncture reduces the average number of headache days per month for those struggling with these painful and disruptive headache attacks.”
Researchers gathered more than 200 people diagnosed with chronic tension-type headaches. The patients had them for an average of 11 years and had these headaches for an average of 22 days per month.
Each patient either participated in true acupuncture or superficial acupuncture during the study. True acupuncture treatments focus on achieving a “deqi” sensation, which means placing and moving a needle in the body to reach a tingling, numb, or heavy feeling.
The superficial treatments insert the needles with less depth to avoid achieving the deqi sensation. Both groups received two or three sessions per week, for a total of 20 sessions, for two months. Researchers followed each person’s progress for an additional six months.
True acupuncture can get rid of 2 weeks’ worth of headaches
The researchers considered success as anyone seeing the number of days with headaches drops by at least 50 percent. All participants had clinical visits every four weeks. They also used headache diaries to record their symptoms and use of medications each day.
By the end of the study, 68 percent of the participants using true acupuncture reported at least a 50 percent reduction in their monthly number of headache days. Only 50 percent of the people receiving superficial acupuncture treatments achieved the same levels of success.
Researchers also found the number of monthly headache days gradually decreased after treatment among participants in both acupuncture groups. For those receiving true acupuncture, headache days decreased from an average of 20 days per month to just seven days by the end of the study.
Among those participating in superficial acupuncture, headache days decreased from 23 days per month at the beginning of the study to 12 days per month. The side-effects from the treatments were mild and did not require further treatment, according to the findings published online by the journal Neurology.
“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 concludes. “In comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.