Headaches and Migraines
If you suffer from frequent headaches or migraines you’ll know how debilitating they can be.
They interfere with one’s ability to work and socialise, and can drastically reduce quality of life.
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms experienced by humans. Most people get a headache at some point in their life.
“Normal” headaches tend to come from an identifiable source, for example the headache that might follow alcohol, marijuana, exercise, lack of water, lack of food, pressure (say from tight sunglasses or a hat), and consumption of food additives like MSG.
Recurring headaches include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines. These don’t always have an identifiable trigger, or have triggers that aren’t easily avoidable.
Headache Australia is a branch of the Brain Foundation. They estimate that a massive 36% of men and 42% of women suffer from chronic tension type headaches.
Migraines are severe headaches that last somewhere between 4 and 72 hours, and can come with associated symptoms like nausea and auras (visual disturbances). It’s expected that 10-15% of Australians suffer from migraines with estimated direct and indirect cost of $1 billion per annum.
Medical treatment options
Pain relieving medication can be effective at controlling pain as it arises, however they play little role in preventing the next episode. Symptomatic relief may be all that’s required for one-off “normal” headaches, but if you are getting headaches on a regular basis (a few a week) you should consider pursuing a more preventative approach.
Modern medical prevention tends to be reserved for those with very frequent migraines, or migraines that respond poorly to acute pain medication. This unfortunately leaves everyone else with just acute treatment and little in the way of long term reduction in frequency and intensity of their headaches.
It must also be said that pain medications can come with some heavy side effects such as fatigue, poor mental focus and drowsiness, palpitations, and nausea.
Acupuncture treatment for headaches and migraines The treatment of neurological conditions, particularly pain, is an area in which acupuncturetruly excels.
There is an ever increasing body of quality research showing the effects of acupuncture on headache and migraine frequency and severity. The results of treatment tend to endure once treatment stops, it is well tolerated and side effects if any are minor.
Below is a snap shot of some of that research.
Acupuncture effectively reduces frequency of headaches and migraines
- Study involving 401 patients with chronic headache, predominantly migraine. The treatment
group were given 12 acupuncture treatments over 3 months.
Results: They experienced 22 fewer headache days per year than those who didn’t receive acupuncture. Further, they used 15% less medication, made 25% fewer visits to GPs, and took 15% fewer days off sick.
The authors’ conclusion was “Acupuncture leads to persisting, clinically relevant benefits for primary care patients with chronic headache, particularly migraine.
In this study, those who had received acupuncture still did significantly better than those who didn’t 9 months after completion of treatment.
- Study including 302 patients with migraine headaches. Those receiving acupuncture had 12 treatments over 8 weeks.
Results: Number of days with headaches were reduced by 51%, compared with 15% in the control group.
- A massive study recruiting a total of 15,056 headache patients. Those treated received up to 15 acupuncture sessions over 3 months.
Results: Number of headache days were reduced by 44%, and similarly, intensity of pain and quality of life improvements were more pronounced in the acupuncture compared with control group. Authors’ conclusion: “Acupuncture plus routine care in patients with headache was associated with marked clinical improvements compared with routine care alone”.
These results were maintained at 6 months after treatment.
Acupuncture is better than preventative medication
- 160 women with migraines. 80 were given acupuncture weekly for 2 months, then once a month for the next months. The other 80 were given preventative drug treatment for the same time frame.
Results: The number of migraine attacks after 2 and 4 months of treatment was significantly lower in the acupuncture group, and analgesic consumption was also far less at 2 months of treatment. Pain intensity was significantly reduced only by acupuncture treatment. Side effects were significantly less frequent in the acupuncture group.
- 114 migraine patients were given either 8 to 15 acupuncture treatments over 12 weeks or drug prophylaxis for the same period.
Results: The number of “responders” (those with greater than 50% fewer headaches) was 61% in the acupuncture group vs the drug group. There were fewer adverse effects in the acupuncture group.
In recent years there has been much research to support acupuncture’s claim to be able to treat and prevent headaches and migraines. A Cochrane Review of 22 clinical trials6 concluded that there is consistent evidence that:
- Acupuncture effectively reduces migraine headache frequency and intensity.
- Acupuncture is at least as effective, if not more effective, than conventional drug prevention therapy.
- Acupuncture is well tolerated and associated with fewer side effects than drug treatment.
- Acupuncture is a cost-effective therapy.
If you or someone close to you struggles with regular headaches or migraines, give us a call to begin your treatment today.
- Vickers AJ, Rees RW, Zollman CE, McCarney R, Smith CM, Ellis N, et al. Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large,
pragmatic, randomised trial. BMJ. 2004;328(7442):744–747.
- Linde K, Streng A, Jürgens S, Hoppe A, Brinkhaus B, Witt C, et al. Acupuncture for patients with migraine: a randomized
controlled trial. JAMA. 2005;293(17):2118–2125.
- Jena S, Witt CM, Brinkhaus B, Wegscheider K, Willich SN. Acupuncture in patients with headache. Cephalalgia. 2008;Vol.
- Allais G, De Lorenzo C, Quirico PE, Airola G, Tolardo G, Mana O, et al. Acupuncture in the prophylactic treatment of migraine
without aura: a comparison with flunarizine. Headache. 2002;42(9):855–861.
- Streng A, Linde K, Hoppe A, Pfaffenrath V, Hammes M, Wagenpfeil S, et al. Effectiveness and tolerability of acupuncture
compared with metoprolol in migraine prophylaxis. Headache. 2006;46(10):1492–1502.
- Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane database of
systematic reviews (Online). 2009;(1):CD001218. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2.