Acupuncture could reduce tension headaches by half

Cosmetic acupuncture treatment session. Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org

People who have chronic tension headaches might be able to reduce the frequency of those headaches by as much as 50% with acupuncture, according to research published in the journal Neurology. Tension headaches, which are the most common type, are sometimes described as feeling pressure as if you had a tight band around your head. They are considered chronic if they regularly occur at least 15 days a month.

The study involved 218 people who had experienced tension headaches for an average of 22 days a month for 11 years. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups, either to be given what the researchers describe as “true acupuncture” or “superficial acupuncture.” Acupuncture, a component of centuries-old traditional Chinese medicine, involves penetrating the skin at specific points with extremely thin needles and then gently moving them.

The aim is to improve the flow of energy in the body (known as “qi,” also spelled “chi”), which is believed to improve health. When needles are inserted to the proper depth, the de qi sensation occurs, and the patient feels a numbness, heaviness or tingling. This sensation is considered key to successful acupuncture treatment. Study participants in the “true acupuncture” group achieved the de qi sensation, but in the “superficial acupuncture” group, needles were not inserted deep enough to create this sensation. Both groups were given 20 treatments in a two-month span and then tracked for six additional months.

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The number of tension headaches gradually decreased after treatment for people in both groups, but about two-thirds of those given true acupuncture experienced at least a 50% reduction, compared with half of those given the superficial type. For the “true” group, headache days fell from 20 a month at the start of the study to seven days a month at the end, compared with a drop from 22 to 12 days a month for the “superficial” group

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