It is estimated that one out of every six Americans suffers from chronic headaches. With more than 300 million Americans, that adds up to tens of millions of people. Currently, the most common means of treatment is medication. It is not always successful and comes with side effects whether it does or does not help. People are eager for some new method of migraine relief.
Although the NIH has been touting the benefits of acupuncture for headaches for years, it is not getting embraced to the degree it deserves. More recently, Duke has joined the chorus of voices advocating for it after conducting a meta-study investigating migraine relief via acupuncture. This meta-study concluded that acupuncture for headaches is more effective than medication for chronic headache sufferers.
The team of Duke analysts conducted a comprehensive review of the most rigorous trials they could find. They only included studies with randomized controlled trials that tested the effectiveness of acupuncture for adult chronic headache patients. In order to be included in the aggregate meta-study in question, they had to be at least 28 days in length.
In a nutshell, this meta-study concluded that acupuncture for headaches is not only a viable alternative to medication, it is actually a preferable treatment modality for providing migraine relief due to a combination of low costs, lack of side effects and greater efficacy than the alternatives studied.
People interested in pursuing this as a treatment option can expect sessions to typically last a half hour. You need to have a little patience as you typically will not start seeing results until after a handful of sessions.
It is common for people who have not actually tried acupuncture to assume it is painful. They hear it involves needles and probably imagine the kinds of needles used in sewing or with syringes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The actual instruments used are incredibly small and cause no pain during the course of treatment.
Consider this fact: Acupuncture is actually thousands of years old. So while it may be new to you, the reality is that it is far more well established than most Western treatment modalities which typically have not been around anywhere near as long.
Some of the studies in question compared acupuncture to sham acupuncture, the closest equivalent to a placebo. Other studies compared acupuncture to use of medication. In both kinds of studies, acupuncture was consistently found to be more effective. The meta-study included data approximately 4000 test subjects and nearly three dozen studies. Approximately half of the studies included in the meta-study looked specifically at migraine patients, while other studies involved people suffering from either tension headaches or other kinds of chronic headaches.