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Acupuncture vs. Headaches

December 4, 2008 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

We all get an occasional headache. But for some people, headaches are a regular part of life. And while taking pain relievers every once in awhile may be reasonably safe, taking them on a long-term basis may not be.

Recently, Duke University published a review of thirty-one studies that examined the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic headaches. Their results could very well change the way that many people cope with this painful condition.

AcupunctureBefore we go any further, I’d like to briefly explain exactly what acupuncture is. Acupuncture is a technique whereby very fine needles are placed in specific spots on your body. Practitioners of acupuncture believe that certain points on your body correlate to particular health conditions and symptoms.

In the Duke University review, most of the studies compared real acupuncture against “sham” acupuncture. In other words, some people in these studies had needles placed in real acupuncture points that have been traditionally used to treat headaches. Another group of people also had needles applied to them, but in areas of the body that had no traditional association with headache treatment. The review also compared the effects of acupuncture versus medication therapy.

The results of the review revealed the following important findings:

  • 62% of acupuncture patients found an improvement in headache relief vs. only 45% of those taking medications. The patients who received acupuncture also reported “better physical well-being”.
  • More patients benefited from real acupuncture as opposed to “sham” acupuncture. But get this! Even those receiving sham acupuncture found positive results 45% of the time.
  • Only 5 or 6 acupuncture treatments were required for most patients to start seeing an improvement in their headache symptoms.

According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Tong Joo Gan, “Acupuncture is becoming a favorable option … because people experience significantly fewer side effects and it can be less expensive than other options.”

So now you know. There’s an affordable, more effective, safer option to medication for chronic headache pain. Let’s spread the word!

For more information, please follow this link.

Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies

10 Comments & Updates to “Acupuncture vs. Headaches”

  1. Ali Says:

    Hey JP!

    Really enjoy reading your blogs!
    Couple of questions. Is acupuncture painful?
    Does it take getting used to? Can it be
    covered by health insurance?

    Thank you!

  2. JP Says:


    Acupuncture is generally not very painful. The reason for this is because the needles they use are very fine. Much finer than syringe needles.

    I think most people get used to it pretty quickly. Once you realize it’s not going to hurt, you start to relax and become more comfortable.

    Some insurance providers do cover acupuncture under certain circumstances. If you want to know if your health insurance covers acupuncture, give them a call or visit their web site. You should be able to find out for sure that way.

    Be well!


  3. natali Says:

    Acupuncture is a great alternative for headaches and many other conditions

  4. G Paul Fanton Says:


    Good pragmatic advice!

    Thank you

  5. Ken Shim, RMT Says:

    I personally find that acupuncture works wonderfully well for headaches. I typically combine acupuncture and massage techniques together when doing treatments for double the benefit.

    With regards to pain, if you are really sensitive, insist on seirin or asia med needles. They are extra thin and silicone lubricated and are practically ouchless. Hope that helps.

  6. JP Says:

    That’s excellent information to know, Ken. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update: In related news, EFT, a mind-body therapy, may be helpful …


    Explore (NY). 2013 Mar-Apr;9(2):91-9.

    Effect of the emotional freedom technique on perceived stress, quality of life, and cortisol salivary levels in tension-type headache sufferers: a randomized controlled trial.

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the short-term effects of the emotional freedom technique (EFT) on tension-type headache (TTH) sufferers.

    DESIGN: We used a parallel-group design, with participants randomly assigned to the emotional freedom intervention (n = 19) or a control arm (standard care n = 16).

    SETTING: The study was conducted at the outpatient Headache Clinic at the Korgialenio Benakio Hospital of Athens.

    PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-five patients meeting criteria for frequent TTH according to International Headache Society guidelines were enrolled.

    INTERVENTION: Participants were instructed to use the EFT method twice a day for two months.

    OUTCOME MEASURES: Study measures included the Perceived Stress Scale, the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale, and the Short-Form questionnaire-36. Salivary cortisol levels and the frequency and intensity of headache episodes were also assessed.

    RESULTS: Within the treatment arm, perceived stress, scores for all Short-Form questionnaire-36 subscales, and the frequency and intensity of the headache episodes were all significantly reduced. No differences in cortisol levels were found in any group before and after the intervention.

    CONCLUSIONS: EFT was reported to benefit patients with TTH. This randomized controlled trial shows promising results for not only the frequency and severity of headaches but also other lifestyle parameters.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Update: Mindfulness meditation offers another mind-body approach to reducing headache pain …


    Nurs Midwifery Stud. 2014 Sep;3(3):e21136. Epub 2014 Sep 20.

    Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on pain severity and mindful awareness in patients with tension headache: a randomized controlled clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Programs to improve the pain and health status in illnesses with pain such as headache are still in their infancy. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a new psychotherapy that appears to be effective in treating chronic pain.

    OBJECTIVES: This study evaluated efficacy of MBSR in improving pain severity and mindful awareness in patients with tension headache.

    PATIENTS AND METHODS: This study was a randomized controlled clinical trial that was conducted in 2012 in Shahid Beheshti Hospital of Kashan City. Sixty patients who were diagnosed with tension-type headache according to the International Headache Classification Subcommittee were randomly assigned to treatment as usual (TAU) or MBSR groups. The MBSR group received eight weekly treatments. Any session lasted 120 minutes. The sessions were based on MBSR protocol. Diary scale for measuring headache and Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) were administered at pretreatment, and posttreatment, and three-month follow-up in both groups. The data was analyzed using repeated measures analysis of variance.

    RESULTS: The mean of pain severity was 7.36 ± 1.25 before intervention that was significantly reduced to 5.62 ± 1.74 and 6.07 ± 1.08 after the intervention and follow-up (P < 0.001). In addition, the MBSR group showed higher scores in mindful awareness in comparison with the control group at posttest session. The mean of mindful awareness before intervention was 34.9 ± 10.5 and changed to 53.8 ± 15.5 and 40.7 ± 10.9 after the intervention and follow-up sessions (P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: MBSR could reduce pain and improve mindfulness skills in patients with tension headache. It appears that MBSR is an effective psychotherapy for treatment of patients with tension headache. Be well! JP

  9. JP Says:

    Update 06/11/15:


    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:920353.

    Acupuncture for Frequent Migraine: A Randomized, Patient/Assessor Blinded, Controlled Trial with One-Year Follow-Up.

    Objectives. This study aimed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of manual acupuncture as a prophylaxis for frequent migraine. Methods. Fifty frequent migraineurs were randomly allocated to receive 16 sessions of either real acupuncture (RA = 26) or sham acupuncture (SA = 24) during 20 weeks. The primary outcomes were days with migraine over four weeks, duration, and intensity of migraine and the number of responders with more than 50% reduction of migraine days. The secondary outcomes were the relief medication, quality of migraine, quality of life, and pressure pain thresholds. Results. The two groups were comparable at baseline. At the end of the treatment, when compared with the SA group, the RA group reported significant less migraine days (RA: 5.2 ± 5.0; SA: 10.1 ± 7.1; P = 0.008), less severe migraine (RA: 2.18 ± 1.05; SA: 2.93 ± 0.61; P = 0.004), more responders (RA: 19 versus SA: 7), and increased pressure pain thresholds. No other group difference was found. Group differences were maintained at the end of the three-month follow-up, but not at the one-year follow-up. No severe adverse event was reported. Blinding was successful. Discussion. Manual acupuncture was an effective and safe treatment for short-term relief of frequent migraine in adults. Larger trials are warranted.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 06/26/16:


    Neurol Sci. 2016 Jun 23.

    The efficacy of lymphatic drainage and traditional massage in the prophylaxis of migraine: a randomized, controlled parallel group study.

    This study aimed at examining the efficacy of lymphatic drainage (LD) and traditional massage (TM) in the prophylactic treatment of migraine using controlled prospective randomized clinical trial of 64 patients (57 women, 45 ± 10 years) with migraine with and without aura. Patients were randomized into three groups: LD (n = 21); TM (n = 21); waiting group (WG, n = 22). After a 4-week-baseline, a treatment period of 8 weeks was applied followed by a 4-week observation period. The patients filled in a headache diary continuously; every 4 weeks they filled in the German version of the CES-D and the German version of the Headache Disability Inventory. The main outcome measure was migraine frequency per month. At the end of the observation period, the number of migraine attacks and days decreased in the LD group by 1.8 and 3.1, respectively, in the TM group by 1.3 and 2.4, and in the WG by 0.4 and 0.2, respectively. The differences between LD and WG were significant (p = 0.006 and p = 0.015, respectively) as well as the differences between TM und WG (p = 0.042 and p = 0.016, respectively). There was a significant decrease in the amount of analgesic intake in the LD group compared to the two other groups (p = 0.004). TM and LD resulted in a reduction of migraine attack frequency. The analgesic intake only decreased significantly during LD intervention. Useful effects were identified for LD and TM as compared to WG for the prophylaxis of migraine. LD was more efficacious in some parameters than TM.

    Be well!


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