Study Shows Acupuncture Treats and Prevents Migraine Headaches

Migraine sufferers may now have a medically supported means to prevent migraines, without the use of drugs, using acupuncture. Results of two large studies also show that acupuncture may relieve bothersome, frequent tension headache.

Medications to treat and prevent migraine headaches have side effects that often make them intolerable to patients. Beta-blockers, commonly used for migraine headache can cause fatigue and depression in some people.

Lead reviewer of the newest study, Klaus Linde, MD, from the Center for Complementary Medicine Research at Munich Technical University, Germany says, "The data suggest that in about half of patients, acupuncture decreases the frequency of migraine or frequent tension-type headache by about 50%, which is quite similar to other effective treatments for these disorders.”Compared with drug treatments, acupuncture has fewer side effects, although some patients are adverse to needle insertion."

For anyone opposed to having needles inserted into their skin, as is the case during acupuncture treatment, the review also showed that needle insertion may not be necessary. The researchers found that sham acupuncture (needles place incorrectly, or not penetrating the skin) showed the same results for migraine prevention and relief of tension headache as did traditional acupuncture.

Andrew Vickers, MD, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, review author of the study, published January 21 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews says, "Putting a needle in the wrong place may still have some physiologic effect on the body."

The Cochrane review shows that migraine headaches can be treated with acupuncture acutely. Migraine sufferers who have repeated and poorly controlled headaches should receive acupuncture preventatively.

Acupuncture is primarily used to treat arthritis and back pain in the US – second is chronic and migraine headache. A 2002 survey showed that ten percent of Americans used acupuncture to treat migraine headaches.

The results from the Cochrane review of acupuncture treatment for migraine “suggest that migraine patients benefit from acupuncture, although the correct placement of needles seems to be less relevant than is usually thought by acupuncturists.

If headaches are not too frequent (up to 2 migraine attacks per month and up to 8 days of mild tension-type headache per month), treatment with analgesics should be sufficient. Relaxation or biofeedback can also be helpful” for treatment of headaches, says Dr. Linde.

According to the Mayo clinic, as many as 17 percent of women and 6 percent of men have experienced a migraine headache. Migraine headaches can be disabling; causing days lost from work as the result of pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.

Treatment with 8 to 12, twenty to thirty minute acupuncture sessions should provide lasting relief from migraines, though the authors point out,…” as with other therapies, not all patients respond."

When the Cochrane reviewers looked at all of the data, they found that acupuncture treats and prevents migraine and tension headaches, equally as well as drugs, and that the benefits last six months or longer.

Kathleen Blanchard RN

: Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis.

Migraines, Tension-Type Headaches Respond to Acupuncture