Acupuncture treatment for headaches: It works, says Cochrane

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Acupuncture got an official seal of approval from a respected medical organization this year. It effectively treats tension-type headaches and helps keep away migraines—even better than other preventive treatments—they said.

The Cochrane Collaboration is in independent, well-respected, nonprofit organization that analyzes evidence-based medicine (available studies) to to come up with recommendations of whether interventions work.  They are strict, conservative and not easy to please, and it’s hard to get their approval.  So if they think some treatment works, the evidence bears them out.

After reviewing the literature, they proclaim acupuncture is good treatment for migraines if the usual over-the-counter medicines don’t help.  Also, if preventive medicines for migraines don’t work or give you side effects such as nausea or drowsiness, you may want to consider acupuncture.

I’m not familiar enough with acupuncture to know whether there’s a standard number of treatments, but the Cochrane people found treatment continues to be effective for up to nine months after finishing.  No word on how much the treatments decrease headache frequency or severity, or what prophylactic medicines they were compared to.  Cochrane just said it helps.

Even with no specifics, I will recommend it to those miserable few who have found no success with more conventional therapies.  In the past, I’ve said it’s worth a try.  Now I’ll be more optimistic.

For myself, the tryptans (Zomig, Imitrex, Maxalt, etc) work magic.  I started having migraines in my 30s and thought it was tension headaches.  Luckily another doctor (and my wife) thought it was migraines so I tried a tryptan.  I had relief within 30 minutes.  As I’ve gotten older the headaches have become less frequent.

Other people, however, are not so lucky with tryptans, or have headaches so often that these medicines are impractical and expensive.  There are medicines you can take every day to prevent the headaches and now we have proof that acupuncture is effective also.

Good news, indeed.

Does anyone else have migraines, or have you tried acupuncture?

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12 Responses to “Acupuncture treatment for headaches: It works, says Cochrane”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    I feel so fortunate to have never had headaches! Never had acupuncture either. Knowing people who have had them, I’m glad to see anything that may offer them some relief!

    Dr. Js last blog post..A few of Dr. J’s favorite sayings

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    They can be miserable, Dr. J. Triptans have been great for most, but are expensive.

  3. Sagan Says:

    This is wonderful news. My mum being a veterinary acupuncturist, I’ve seen lots of really amazing results for the animals that she performs it on. Many of our clients are people who didn’t want their animals to get surgery, and with a few acupuncture treatments they ended up recovering with fantastic results. Acupuncture works really well in conjunction with Western medicine, too.

    The number of sessions needed varies from patient to patient… sometimes it only takes a couple treatments; other patients return for “tune ups” every couple weeks or so.

    Sagans last blog post..Book Review: “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” by Lou Schuler

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Sagan, thanks for that info. A couple of treatments sounds very doable unless you have a fear of needles.

  5. ocbody.com doc Says:

    Many things help migraines, but no one thing seems to work all the time. Botulinum toxin injections seem to decrease their incidence and frequency. My fiance’ gets migraines and we go between Myobloc injections and oral medications. Acupuncture seems a reasonable modality to consider as well.

    ocbody.com docs last blog post..Plastic Surgeon for Skin Cancer – Why?

  6. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks Dr. Disaia:

    Botox is another possibility. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Mark Salinas Says:

    Acupuncture is on my short list to try….not for headaches just curious!

    Dr.J! Never a headache? Wow!

  8. Seattle Acupuncture - Get Bids & Save | MiNeeds Says:

    Acupuncture was started in China and slowly came over the west. This makes a lot of impressive treatments all over the world. Now in USA, many acupuncture clinics were opened for the people. A good service you can get it from Mineeds.com, where the people can post their needs to get those services.

  9. Acupuncture And Migraines Says:

    [...] Acupuncture And Migraine Headache [...]

  10. Jasmine Says:

    I have heard from a lot of migraine sufferers that the medicines that they take have side effects. Others even said it doesn’t help in relieving their migraine headaches. This kind of treatment and other natural remedies have less tendencies for side effects and complications unlike other medicines.

  11. North York acupuncture Says:

    Acupuncture is an old natural medicine approach that heals and treats pain and good flow in the body. It is very helpful and reliable and widely accepted and used with so many positive testimonies.

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