Acupuncture for Headache
TREATMENT FOR HEADACHES
Overview of Acupuncture for Headache
Traditionally a healing practice of Eastern cultures, acupuncture is used to treat lower back and neck pain and a variety of diseases and conditions. This is primarily done by inserting extremely fine needles through the skin at various points that stimulate nerves, muscles and other connective tissues. While considered by some to still be exotic, acupuncture has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for certain conditions and is widely used in the US.
RESCU Treatment Ratings
R = Risk E = Effectiveness S = Self-Care
C = Cost U = Usefulness (overall rating)
1 = Least Favorable 5 = Most FavorableR E S C U R
While the risks of health complications due to acupuncture are low, side effects are possible. These can include:
- Soreness – After acupuncture, soreness, minor bleeding and bruising at needles sites may occur.
- Organ Injury – If needles are pushed too deeply, they can perforate internal organs such as the lung, however such instances are extremely rare.
- Infections – Acupuncturists are required to be licensed and to use sterile and disposable needles.
- Pregnancy – Acupuncture can sometimes stimulate labor, resulting in a premature pregnancy.
Based on our review of the risks, acupuncture appears to be a safe treatment if used properly.
Lao, Lixing; Hamilton, Gayle R; Fu, Jianping; Berman, Brian M. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 9.1(Jan/Feb 2003): 72-83.
How effective is acupuncture for neck pain? There is evidence it helps, but the evidence is conflicting. This is because there are a variety of providers who use acupuncture, and variations in how it is performed. In addition, the studies done to date have sometimes been too small to make firm conclusions one way or the other.
According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health (https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction#hed3):
“Results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. Therefore, acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider. However, clinical practice guidelines are inconsistent in recommendations about acupuncture.
The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.”
(MacPherson H, Tilbrook H, Richmond S, Woodman J, Ballard K, Atkin K, et al. Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163:653–662.)
The Cochrane Collaboration is a highly respected organization that reviews scientific evidence of effectiveness for various health care procedures, and recently conducted a review of acupuncture for tension headaches, concluding,
“The available results suggest that acupuncture is effective for treating frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches, but further trials – particularly comparing acupuncture with other treatment options – are needed.”
A large number of studies have demonstrated that acupuncture seems to be helpful for tension headaches and migraine, but the language and philosophy of acupuncture don’t match up well with “modern” medicine and science, which can lead some researchers to criticize it even when well done studies shows it helps. Our conclusion: the evidence supports acupuncture as a reasonable treatment option for patients with common headaches.
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD001218.
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online). 2009;(1):CD007587. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007587.
Zhao L, Chen J, Li Y, et al. The Long-term Effect of Acupuncture for Migraine ProphylaxisA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(4):508–515. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9378 515. 9378S
SELF CARE: 1/5
While it may be possible to self-administer acupuncture, we believe that is unlikely. Thus there are very limited options for self care.C
Generally, acupuncture appears to be a fairly inexpensive treatment. Individual acupuncture sessions can cost anywhere from $75 to $95, with regular visits $50 to $70. Prices are similar nationwide and do not differ greatly whether the service is by a clinic or private practitioner.U
USEFULNESS (overall rating): 4/5
Current research shows acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment for headaches. Particularly tension-type headaches, and seems to be at least as effective as many other headache treatments, including medication.Find a “Help What Hurts”
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