Study Shows Acupuncture Can Treat Chronic Headaches

[1st Oct 2005]

When it comes to treating headaches, acupuncture may one day be as common a remedy as taking aspirin. In fact, the ancient Chinese treatment is gaining respect in the medical community as a therapy for aching heads.

In fact, a new study at the University of North Carolina adds to a growing body of clinical research supporting acupuncture's role as a headache therapy.

The study of more than 70 chronic headache sufferers found that those who added a six-week course of acupuncture to their medical treatment reported less pain and better quality of life compared to those who didn't get the therapy.

"Adding acupuncture to their treatment clearly improved their situation," said acupuncture researcher Dr. Remy Coeytaux.

Coeytaux said that it is not clear from this study, or others, how much of the improvement is a placebo effect, or even how acupuncture eases chronic headache pain.

"There is more to the body than chemistry and anatomy and that there is an energy that is coursing through the body," Coeytaux said.

For patients like Charlotte Langford, that energy responds better to tiny needles than to medicine.

Tiny needles in Langford's feet have worked wonders for the throbbing pain in her head.

"It's a pounding, like somebody has a hammer and they are beating me in the top of my head," she said.

Langford has suffered with chronic headaches since she was a child and acupuncture is the only treatment that has helped, she said.

"I know that it has saved my life, and it really has," she said.

Researchers note that the acupuncture results could have a major impact on the treatment of chronic headaches, noting that medicine is often not effective for people who suffer with this type of head pain.

In some cases, medicine can actually make the headaches worse, which is called the "rebound effect."

It is estimated that 4 to 7 percent of Americans suffer with chronic headaches.

Researchers said they plan to conduct a larger study in an effort to measure the possible placebo effect.

Initial Study Details

Results of the study are reported in the October issue of the journal Headache, which is published by the American Headache Society. The study's lead author is Coeytaux, an assistant professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine's department of family medicine.

The International Headache Society criteria for chronic tension-type headache are headaches on 15 or more days a month (180 days per year), for at least six months.

Seventy-four patients who were already receiving treatment in the Headache Clinic at UNC Hospitals were recruited to participate in the study. To be eligible for the study, a person had to suffer from headaches at least 15 days a month.

However, most participants reported that they had headaches nearly every day.

One group of patients in the study continued to receive standard medical care, while a second group was randomly assigned to receive standard medical care, in addition to a course of 10 acupuncture treatments during a six-week period.

The acupuncture treatments were administered by UNC's Dr. Wunian Chen, an instructor in the department of family medicine who was trained in China in the use of traditional Chinese acupuncture. These treatments took place in the General Clinical Research Center at UNC Hospitals.

[Click here for Discussion forum feedback on this article]

[Click here to Return to the Research Papers Index]