Acupuncture is an alternative medicine approach that has been growing in popularity, partly because, in contrast to cupping, more and more science is pointing out its effectiveness in treating many different conditions. That includes both tension and migraine headache treatments.
Acupuncture for Tension Headaches
The Cochrane Review for this topic was recently updated, taking the information from the 2009 review and supplementing it with information from as late as January 2016. Their conclusion: it is effective for preventing the headaches, but we don’t know how effective compared to other treatments.
Most of the conclusion is based on two large trials that compared the use of acupuncture to the use of routine care. In one trial, 48% of people undergoing acupuncture had a 50% decrease in headache frequency compared to only 19% in routine care who saw that reduction.
The second trial, which was smaller, saw about the same reduction among acupuncture recipients (45%), but a much lower reduction among routine care recipients (4%).
It’s important to note that these trials weren’t blinded, so it’s likely that placebo effect made a contribution to the results. How big a contribution? A study that compared acupuncture to sham acupuncture showed that 43% of sham acupuncture recipients saw a 50% decrease in headaches, compared to 51% for those receiving true acupuncture.
In other words, 80-90% of the results could be due to the placebo effect or other effects not related to the true nature of acupuncture.
Acupuncture for Migraines
Researchers didn’t update the Cochrane Review on acupuncture for migraines. It has similar conclusions to the data about tension headaches. Essentially, there seems to be some effect for the prevention of migraines. In fact, it’s potentially better than migraine prevention drugs, and with fewer side effects.
There were many studies that compared true and sham acupuncture for migraine prevention. Looking at the results, researchers found no evidence that true acupuncture was in any way superior to sham acupuncture. They generously allow that it’s possible the exact location of the needlepoints doesn’t matter, rather than attributing benefits to the placebo effect.
Alternative Headache Treatments Deserve Consideration
If you are suffering from chronic tension or migraine headaches, it’s important to consider all your treatment options. TMJ treatment, like acupuncture, is often disparaged as an approach for treating migraines and chronic headaches. But TMJ treatment is a very effective approach for the right candidates and can help you get relief when other headache treatments aren’t working.