Acupuncture and Headaches | a review of scientific studies

by Jamie Holland, LAc, ABT, ACN

An introduction to headaches in general

The W.H.O. calculates that 50% of the world population experience headaches in any given year (1). There are many different types of headaches including migraine, tension-type, cluster and medication-overuse headaches.

Migraine Headaches: A typical migraine headache is of moderate or severe intensity, unilateral, and can last from hours to days at a time. Often with an aura (nausea, sensitivity to light, halo vision, sound sensitivity, etc...). Migraines are experienced most often in persons  between the ages of 35-45 years of age, and are more common with women. (1)

Tension Headaches: Often described as pressure or tension that wraps around the head or spreads out from the neck. Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache disorder, reported to be experienced by more than 70% of the population. Tension headaches can be categorized as episodic or chronic depending on how often they occur. Tension headaches also occur more often in women than men (3:1 ratio), and can often be triggered by stress and musculoskeletal tension in upper back and neck. (1)

Cluster Headaches: Much less common than tension or migraine headaches, affecting less than 1:1000 adults and more men than women (6:1 ratio). Cluster headaches are frequently recurring headaches (can occur many times per day), are intensely painful, of short duration, most often focused around one eye, and can be episodic or chronic in nature. (1)

Medication-Overuse Headaches: The most common secondary headache disorder, caused by overuse of medications that are meant to treat headaches. The excessive use of these medications can cause rebound headaches which can be persistent. (1)

How acupuncture reduces pain

Acupuncture is pretty remarkable in that it can reduce pain via multiple pathways in the body. In Chinese Medicine, most pain is characterized by a blockage of qi and blood in the meridian system, and the mechanism for reducing pain is to unblock the channels to get qi and blood moving again. In scientific terms, and supported by quality research, acupuncture is thought to perform multiple actions that modulate pain including, but not limited to, promoting blood flow (5, 6), releasing the body's own natural painkillers (6), balancing the body's stress responses (5), stimulating healing through micro trauma (5), and reseting the nervous system so that the body can correctly address chronic injury and pain (7, 8).

Studies show that acupuncture is an excellent approach to reducing headaches

Multiple studies have shown acupuncture's ability to reduce headaches, while working as good if not better than pain medicine, and having lasting beneficial results.

For example, randomized controlled studies reviewed by Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that acupuncture was able to reduce migraines in almost 3/4 of participants by 50% or more. Both pain, quality, duration and need for medication were reduced in the majority of participants (2).

Cochrane reviewed 12 trials with over  2,000 participants comparing pain medication to a combination of pain medication and acupuncture and found that half (50%) those who received acupuncture in addition to pain medication had headaches reduced by at least half (50%). This out performed pain medication which only reduced 17% of participant's headaches (4).

Harvard Health Publishing reported on a meta-analysis of acupuncture for common pain conditions, including headaches, which combined data from 23 high quality randomized controlled trials, involving nearly 18,000 participants that "conclusively demonstrated that acupuncture is superior to sham for low back pain, headache, and osteoarthritis, and improvements seen were similar to that of other widely used non-opiate pain relievers." (3)

The British Journal of Medicine concluded from randomized controlled studies that acupuncture reduces headaches (9), and the  Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that acupuncture has long lasting pain reducing affects on those with chronic migraines (10).

Summary

In short, some of the most renowned peer reviewed medical journals are reporting on the ability of acupuncture to reduce pain in those experiencing chronic and acute headaches, sometimes significantly out performing medication. Considering that there are almost no side effects from acupuncture, compared to devastating side effects from prescription medications such as opioids, and rebound headaches from other common headache medications, it makes sense that more and more people experiencing pain should give acupuncture a try.

How often should I receive acupuncture for headaches?

The University and Royal Melbourne Hospital researchers concluded, “Acupuncture can be used as alternative and safe prophylaxis for frequent migraine. Our recommendation is that practitioners treat migraine sufferers twice per week for at least eight weeks.” (2) At Lakewood Community Acupuncture, we recommend receiving acupuncture twice a week as you begin treatments, and then as your headaches reduce considerably, and the patient has no headaches between sessions, gradually spreading out treatments. We also recommend cupping therapy as an additional method of relaxing the upper back and neck muscles, in combination with acupuncture.

Sources:

  1. World Health Organization: Headache Disorders, 8 April 2016
  2. Acupuncture for Frequent Migraine: A Randomized, Patient/Assessor Blinded, Controlled Trial with One-Year Follow-UpEvidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015:1-14 · June 2015
  3. Acupuncture for Headache, Harvard Health Publishing, Helene Langevin, MD and Carolyn A. Bernstein, MD, FAHS, January 25, 2018
  4. Acupuncture for tension-type headache, 19 April 2016, Cochrane, Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin B, Vickers A, White AR
  5. Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part IV): How Acupuncture Works, Chris Kresser, 03/11/2010
  6. Acupuncture in pain management, British Journal of Anaesthesia, Jonathan Wilkinson, MB ChB MRCP FRCA Richard Faleiro, BSc (Hons) DCH FRCA, Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain, Volume 7, Issue 4, 1 August 2007, Pages 135–138
  7. Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part V): A Closer Look At How Acupuncture Relieves Pain, Chris Kresser, 03/14/2010
  8. A Randomized controlled trials on the effects of Acupuncture and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) on supraspinatus tendinitis, IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences, Volume 13, Issue 11 Ver. VI (Nov. 2014), PP 63-69
  9. Acupuncture in patients with tension-type headache: randomised controlled trial. BMJ, August 2005.
  10. Acupuncture for Patients With Migraine: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA, May 2005.

Michelle Astringer
Michelle Astringer
2024-03-26
I have been working with Jamie 2x per week for the past couple of weeks. He is extremely attentive, understanding and thorough. I was nervous to start with acupuncture because of my herniated disc and fear of needles but he has made the experience feel very safe and comfortable. I’ve noticed a decrease in pain after suffering for over a year. Highly recommend!
Dani Zocante
Dani Zocante
2024-03-23
We learned about this facility years ago, and try to do a session every week, both practitioners are fantastic!
ashley snider
ashley snider
2024-03-05
My first visit to this clinic was incredible. I found it to be educational, supportive and a step in the right direction for my health. Jamie was attentive and provided helpful information and recommendations. Already have a treatment plan underway and my next appointment booked! Highly recommend for anyone interested in acupuncture and what it has to offer.
Carrie Butler
Carrie Butler
2024-01-24
Jamie was amazing! He was so nice and very knowledgeable. It was my first time getting acupuncture and he explained each step and what to expect. I would definitely recommend him.
Ginny
Ginny
2023-12-30
Crystal was able to get me in quickly. Highly recommend.
Sarah Llerena
Sarah Llerena
2023-12-14
I recently had an incredible experience at this place, and I don't even know where to begin. I found myself in unbearable back pain, unable to stand up straight, and unsure of what caused it. Fortunately, I was able to schedule a prompt appointment, and Jamie's expertise was truly amazing! After receiving both cupping and acupuncture treatments, I noticed a remarkable improvement right away and within just two days, i was 95% back to my normal self. Don't hesitate to book an appointment here—it made a significant difference for me.
Thomas Najar
Thomas Najar
2023-11-20
Great service at a good price. Convenient location, knowledgable staff, clean and inviting clinic.
Tracy Carr
Tracy Carr
2023-11-10
This is the best place ever! I get cupping and acupuncture when my back starts acting up and leave feeling like 50 pounds was lifted off my back. Crystal and Jamie are very thorough in their questions to understand what’s going on and the treatment they provide. And the prices can’t be beat. 10/10
Liz Spanos
Liz Spanos
2023-11-10
I have been going to Lakewood Community Acupuncture for over a year and can’t imagine my life without it now!! It can truly help with so much - from physical pain (I have issues with my pelvic floor and multiple herniated discs) to emotional blocks, energy deficiencies and more! I ALWAYS feel better after acupuncture. I’ve seen all the practitioners and they are all extremely skilled, but Crystal is my go-to. She is not only very gentle and effective but always a delight to connect with. For the quality of service, atmosphere and price, you cannot do better. It’s been a game changer for me. Wholeheartedly recommend!!

Contact

7114 W Jefferson Ave, suite 112
Lakewood, CO 80235
(720) 242-9756
info@lakewoodacupuncture.org

Hours

Monday: 9am-6pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 9am-7pm
Thursday: 9am-7pm
Friday: 9-7pm
Saturday: 9am-3pm
Best Acupuncture in Lakewood
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