Studies Reveal The Ability of Acupuncture to Treat Headaches

Recent clinical trial outcomes have demonstrated acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating headaches. These days, more and more people are turning to alternative therapies because they are safe and more natural compared to Western conventional modes of treatment. An overwhelming number of people may still take the medications prescribed to them by their doctor, but the side effects of these drugs have made them less popular for a growing number of people who suffer from headaches on a regular basis.

The problem with conventional medicine

It is a sad fact that Western pharmaceutical drugs are really not that effective in treating headaches. There are drugs that work well for migraine headaches and some drugs can help with tension headaches. There is one huge problem however with these medications and that problem is they can turn a migraine headache into a CDH or Chronic Daily Headache. This is a headache that is much more difficult to treat.

Unfortunately, the number of CDH is on the rise. CDH is diagnosed when a person experiences headaches on 15 or more days in a single month. Ironically, CDH is caused by a drug that was meant to relieve one specific type of headache. This particular dilemma has forced patients and physicians to search for other means of treatment.

A lot of headaches have certain triggers that include certain types of foods or lack of sleep to mention a few. The person usually is able to avoid these triggers although he/she may not be successful all the time. Therefore, if drugs are in the end counter-productive and factors that can set off headaches are unavoidable, what then can one do?

What is acupuncture?

Used as a form of treatment for over five millennia in China and other parts of East Asia, acupuncture is a form of self-healing procedure in which very fine needles are used and inserted into predetermined points on the body known as acupoints. The needles are left inserted in the acupoints for a certain amount of time.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the body has an energy force (known as Chi) that circulates all over the body. When this circulation or flow becomes unbalanced, sickness occurs. To restore the proper flow and balance of Chi, filamentous needles are inserted into designated acupoints to help treat the sickness.

Acupuncture has only started to become popular in the US during the 1970s in spite of the treatment’s thousands-of-years-old-existence.

Does Acupuncture Work?

A study released by the British Medical Journal showed that after being given acupuncture treatment for three months people who have lost time off work because of headaches took less sick days. A University of North Carolina study revealed that people with CDH experienced substantial improvements in their headaches.

Extra Benefits of Acupuncture

A couple of German studies showed that acupuncture helped improve migraine and headaches compared to people who were not treated with acupuncture. However, there really was no substantial difference in outcomes between placebo acupuncture and ‘real’ acupuncture. Placebo acupuncture treatment involved the insertion of needles into acupoints that were not known to generate any benefit. This result has baffled the researchers who conducted the study which made the workings of acupuncture even more mysterious than it already is.

The result of that study has not lessened in any way the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of any type of headaches. All the findings discussed in this article have encouraged more doctors to recommend acupuncture as an alternative headache treatment for their patients.

Dr. Jeda Boughton is a licensed acupuncture physician and the medical director of BodaHealth in Vancouver, BC.

Acupuncture for Headaches

More often than not, people will use painkilling medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for their headache pain. What they need to know is that there are alternative therapies available that can help with their headaches, and they may find incredible result from those therapies.

One such powerful alternative therapy is acupuncture which is a Chinese healing modality that has been utilized for tens of hundreds of years. More and more headache sufferers have been utilizing it due to its long-term effectiveness in dealing with headache pain.  Individuals who have developed chronic headaches surely know how difficult it is to cope with the pain each and everyday of their lives. The pain virtually affects ever facet of their life; addressing the problem may not be quite that easy for them.

Availing of over-the-counter painkillers can only bring about short-term relief and in the course of time, regular use of these drugs can eventually lead to a resistance to them and cause ‘rebound headache’ that their medications are unable to treat. Due to the medication’s lessened potency over time, individuals who are faced with chronic headache pain have turned to natural and alternative modalities, such as acupuncture.

The idea of getting acupuncture, however, may trigger frightening thoughts of needles inserted into the skin. The needles used by acupuncturists are extremely thin that a tingling or numbing sensation may be all that one feels when the needles are inserted into the skin in order to treat various types of medical conditions.

Recent studies regarding acupuncture therapy have shown that it is often more potent than analgesics in the treatment of headaches.  Some of these studies, done in Germany, involved the use of acupuncture to treat both tension headaches and migraines — the two most common forms of headache. The results were included in the Journal of the American Medical Association validating acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating headache and migraine.

Acupuncture adherents state that the therapy’s effects are greater than that of medications in treating headaches. They also say that acupuncture has no side effects compared to headache medications that bring about serious side effects which are oftentimes as worse as the headaches they treat.

More clinical studies are needed to fully validate the effectiveness of acupuncture and please the establishment naysayers although in truth, tons of anecdotal evidence can be provided to show how acupuncture really helps to treat migraine and headache pain.

One should also consider the gateway theory when seriously thinking about getting acupuncture treatment. The gateway theory means that the body can only feel a limited amount of sensations all at once. When the body is overloaded with sensations, it starts to exclude some of them.  One can realize this sensation when imagining, for example, that a person have just been bit by a mosquito. The scratching of the site of the bite can relieve the itch. This is an example of the gateway theory. This is important to note since acupuncture therapy works the same way.  The body may simply be excluding the pain signals from the headache, and focuses on the pain caused by the needles instead.

Symptoms of Headaches

People can suffer different symptoms from their headaches although there can also be many shared similar symptoms. The pain often is felt behind the eyes, across the forehead or right between the eyes and can result in an inability to concentrate, mild to extreme fatigue and weariness.

Symptoms of Tension Headache

The symptoms of this type of headache may differ among individuals but tension headaches more often cause pain in the top, sides and front of the head and may even be felt in all of those areas all at once. People often characterize tension headache as mild to moderate, constant and throbbing.   Tension headaches are often felt around the middle of day. They can endure for a few minutes, hours or even for many days.

Tension headaches can switch on and off and their symptoms can fluctuate in severity. Chronic tension headaches exemplify typical tension headache symptoms that can endure for long periods of time. Pain gained from chronic tension headaches:

  • Slowly progresses the whole day
  • Is felt in fluctuating degrees of severity

People with chronic tension headaches live a poor quality of life since the pain they feel everyday seriously affects their ability to concentrate and their everyday regular routines. To categorize your headache as a chronic tension headache, the symptoms should last for more than half the days in a month.

Besides the typical headache symptoms like throbbing, dull pain felt across the head and overarches, headaches can also result in other negative consequences. There can be pain felt from tension headaches immediately when you wake up or can even cause the person to wake up while sleeping from the pain. Also, the pain makes sleeping difficult for the person.  Other symptoms that a typical headache can bring include:

  • Photophobia – Sensitivity to light
  • Aching muscles
  • Problem looking at televisions or computer screens
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

There are a lot of people who experience worse kinds of headaches than tension headaches or any other kinds of headaches can give. The worst kind of headache is called migraine and it generates:

  • Acute pain between and behind the eyes
  • Muscle aches
  • Sinus problems
  • Nausea
  • Photophobia – People with migraine say that when they suffer from a migraine attack, they often look for a cool dark room that helps lessen their pain symptoms.

Migraines can cause pain in virtually all parts of the head also even affecting the neck as well. They do have a severe effect on people’s lives and cause them to lie down when a migraine attack comes and rest till the attack dissipates. For migraines, over-the-counter analgesics are prescribed by doctors most of the time. Other symptoms that can manifest with migraine can involve

  • Watery eyes
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness

 Dr. Vickery is a licensed acupuncturist in Tarzana, CA., and the founder and clinical director of Vickery Health and Wellness.


Headaches – Preparing for your Appointment

When getting prepared to visit your doctor for your headache problem, the best way to make the most of your visit is to write down everything you know about your headache providing your doctor with as much information of the characteristics, causes, frequency, severity, medications of your headache and other data that you deem may be vital for your doctor to know. This list can include:

  • Family members living or dead you know who suffer from frequent headaches
  • Foods and drinks you have eaten within the last 24 hours
  • Your sleeping habits
  • Any head trauma you have (falls and bumps on your head)
  • Any physical strain you may be feeling
  • Missing a meal or snack
  • Any exposure to smoke, chemicals, scents or perfumes
  • The weather when you experienced the headache
  • Feelings of stress when the headache began
  • The start of headache during any sexual activity
  • Place where your headache often occurs (shopping centers, office, home, etc.)
  • Any herbs or natural remedies that might have caused the headache
  • Any medications, prescribed or over-the-counter you are taking or have recently taken
  • The duration of the headaches (days, hours)
  • Exact location of the headache (back or front of the head, sides of the head, front of the head, etc.)
  • Other symptoms that accompany the headache
  • Any headaches during your menstrual period

Questions you can ask your doctor about your headache can include:

  • What changes to my lifestyle can you suggest to lessen or prevent the occurrence of my headache?
  • How can I know what causes my headaches?
  • What are the things I should make note of in my headache diary?
  • What medications I am presently taking that may have caused my headaches?
  • What chances are there my headaches or migraines might resolve themselves? If yes, how long do you think it can occur?
  • Do you think biofeedback, hypnosis or other alternative therapies can help?
  • Are there any over-the-counter meds strong enough to relieve my headache?
  • Do you think I can take medications for my migraines?
  • Are there side effects to the medications you recommend?
  • What steps can I take to lessen these side effects?

For his part, the doctor will ask you questions about your headache that will help him formulate a correct diagnosis. These questions can be:

  • Do you suffer from other conditions that accompany your headache?
  • Do you have other health issues besides your headaches?
  • Do you have members of your family that suffer from frequent headaches or migraines?
  • What drugs have you taken for your headache?
  • What part of your head do you feel the ache?
  • Is your headache a new type of headache you now experience?
  • Is your headache a throbbing headache?
  • Do you feel a band-like sensation or a pressure on your head?
  • What time of day does the headache happen? How long do they endure?
  • How long have you been suffering these headaches?
  • What time of day or night does your headache worsen and feel much better? Does your headache forces you to wake up from your sleep?
  • After the headaches start, are there any other symptoms that follow them? Do you suffer from repeat headaches?
  • Does your headache reach its most painful intensity for over an hour or more?
  • Does your headache worsen if you are standing up, sitting down or lying down?
  • Does your head ache when you strain or cough?
  • Do you have headaches during your menstrual cycle?
  • Have you tried home remedies? Did they work?

These questions along with a review of your headache and general medical history plus diagnostic tests studies will be made and requested by your doctor.

An examination of your nervous system, neck, throat, nose, ears, eyes and head will be done by your physician or your health care provider.

Dr. Vickery is a licensed acupuncturist in Tarzana, CA., and the founder and clinical director of Vickery Health and Wellness.