Results from a randomized controlled trial suggest that acupuncture may relieve symptoms of chronic tension-type headaches. The corresponding study was published in Neurology.
Tension-type headaches occur when the neck and scalp muscles become tense or contract. They may occur in response to stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety, and are considered chronic when they occur for more than 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,” said study author Ying Li, MD, Ph.D., of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China.
For the study, the researchers recruited 218 people who had chronic tension-type headaches for an average of 11 years, with headaches occurring an average of 22 days per month. They were randomly assigned groups and received either ‘true acupuncture’ or 'superficial acupuncture' as a control.
True acupuncture was defined as achieving a ‘deqi sensation’- that is, placing and moving a needle in the body until it induces a tingling, numbness, or heaviness. Meanwhile, superficial treatments were defined as more shallow placements of needles that did not induce these sensations.
Both groups underwent treatment two to three times per week for a total of two months, and were followed for six months after treatment.
In the end, the researchers noted that 68% of people who received true acupuncture reported at least a 50% reduction in their number of monthly headaches. The same was true for 50% of people who received superficial acupuncture.
The researchers additionally found that the number of monthly headache days gradually decreased after treatment in both groups.
“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,” said Li. “In comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”