Headache Relief with Acupuncture

Headache Relief with Acupuncture

2 October 2018 by Caitlin Armit

Headache Relief with Acupuncture

In 2016, The Cochrane Database Systematic Review published an article Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache as an update to their 2009 review. Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

What was in the Review?

The review included randomized trials at least eight weeks in duration to investigate whether acupuncture is:

  1. More effective than no prophylactic treatment / routine care only
  2. More effective than ‘sham’ placebo acupuncture and
  3. As effective as other interventions in reducing headache frequency in adults with episodic or chronic tension-type headache

The primary outcome measure was response (at least 50% reduction of headache frequency) after completion of treatment which was three to four months after randomization. To assess safety/acceptability, researchers extracted the number of participants dropping out due to adverse effects and the number of people reporting adverse events. The review included 12 trials with a total of 2349 participants.

Review Findings

Two of these trials compared acupuncture with routine care or treatment of acute headaches (1265 participants and 207 participants respectively) however the baseline headache frequency and management in the control groups was very different. Aside from lack of blinding, the trial quality was considered high due to low risk of bias. The proportion of participants experiencing at least 50% reduction of headache frequency was much higher in groups receiving acupuncture than in control groups (trial 1: 48% vs 19%, trial 2: 45% vs 4%).

Seven trials of moderate to high quality compared acupuncture to ‘sham’ placebo acupuncture. Five of these studies provided data for one or more meta-analyses. At the end of the studies, 51% of the acupuncture participants experienced at least a 50% reduction of headache frequency compared to 43% of those in the ‘sham’ placebo group. At the six months follow up, results were similar. From 6 of these trials, only one participant dropped out (from the acupuncture group) due to adverse events. Three trials reported on patients who experienced adverse events – 17% acupuncture and 12% sham.

Four trials compared acupuncture to physiotherapy, massage or exercise but they were low to moderate quality with inadequately reported findings. No adverse events were reported, nor were there drop outs.

Review Conclusions – Is acupuncture effective for headaches?

The authors of this Cochrane Review state that “acupuncture is effective for treating episodic or chronic tension-type headaches, but further trials – particularly comparing acupuncture with other treatment options – are needed.”



Categories: Brisbane Acupuncture Blog | Pain Relief Brisbane

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