PureInsight | December 31, 2006
According to a report issued by the British Medical Journal,
acupuncture and sham acupuncture are effective in reducing rates of
tension headaches in subjects who normally suffer from them.
In a classic randomized controlled trial - the gold standard of
clinical trials - researchers in Germany divided 270 patients with a
similar severity of tension headache into three groups.
Over an eight week period one set were treated with traditional
acupuncture, one with minimal acupuncture (needles inserted only
superficially into the skin, at non-acupuncture points), and one group
had neither treatment ('control' group).
Those receiving traditional acupuncture care saw their headache rates
drop by almost half - suffering 7 fewer days of headaches over the four
weeks following the treatment. Those receiving minimal acupuncture had
6.6 fewer days of headaches. While the control group experienced 1.5
less days of headaches - a drop of just a tenth.
Improvements to headache rates continued for months after the
acupuncture treatment, though they began to rise slightly as time went
Those in the "no treatment" group were subsequently given acupuncture
for eight weeks after the main study period. These patients also
improved significantly after the treatment, though not to the same
level as those given acupuncture initially.
Of the 195 patients in the acupuncture groups, 37 reported some side
effects - the most common being dizziness, other headaches and
Such a small difference in results between traditional and minimal
acupuncture treatments seems to indicate that the location of
acupuncture points and other aspects of traditional Chinese acupuncture
do not make a major difference for tension headache, said the authors.
Acupuncture treatments are sometimes associated with strong placebo
effects, caution the authors. But these findings show that acupuncture
produces just as good improvements for tension headache sufferers as
treatments already accepted, they conclude.
This is similar to results obtained in a similarly-designed study to
assess the effects of acupuncture, sham acupuncture, and no treatment
on incidence of the more severe migraine headaches in 307 German
sufferers, reported earlier in the Journal of the American Medical
The researchers found that between baseline and weeks 9 to 12, the
average number of days with headache of moderate or severe intensity
decreased 3.0 days from a baseline of 5.2 days in the acupuncture group
compared with a decrease to 2.2 days from a baseline of 5.0 days in the
sham acupuncture group, and by 0.8 days from a baseline of 5.4 days in
the control group. No difference was detected between the acupuncture
and the sham acupuncture groups while there was a difference between
the acupuncture group compared with the control group (1.4 days). The
proportion of responders (reduction in headache days by at least 50
percent) was 51 percent in the acupuncture group, 53 percent in the
sham acupuncture group, and 15 percent in the waiting list group.
The researchers concluded that acupuncture was associated with a
reduction of migraine headaches compared with no treatment; however,
the effects were similar to those observed with sham acupuncture and
might be due to nonspecific physiological effects of needling, to a
powerful placebo effect, or to a combination of both.