Headaches and migraine are very commonly treated by both acupuncture and herbal medicine. Whether alone or in combination is determined by the type of headache and the patient. As an example, tension headaches are well treated by acupuncture although herbs may be used adjunctively. Menstrually related migraines are often treated with a combination of herbs and acupuncture.
In September 2012 new guidlines from NICE on the treatment of headache concluded that acupuncture is effective for the prevention of tension type headaches and migraine and should be prescribed by doctors
Writing in the British Medical Journal, March 2004, UK researchers said patients who were given acupuncture had fewer days of headaches than those who were not.
They also saw their GP less and were not as reliant on painkillers.
Researchers analysed 401 patients from across the UK who reported several days of severe headaches each week.
They were randomly allocated to receive up to 12 acupuncture treatments over three months or to a control group offering other types of care, typically medication.
Patients receiving acupuncture experienced 22 fewer days of headache per year, used 15% less medication, made 25% fewer visits to their GP and were absent from work through sickness 15% less than the control group.
The researchers, from centres around the UK, wrote that introducing acupuncture services could lead to significant long-term benefits for patients with chronic headaches.
Dr Mike Cummings, from the British Medical Acupuncture Society said,
"This should help to lift acupuncture out of what is seen to be alternative to mainstream medicine"
A large German study has found that if patients with chronic headaches receive acupuncture in addition to their standard medical care, they have a greatly reduced frequency of headaches and that the effect lasts for at least thee months after the end of treatment.
In this study the effectiveness of acupuncture in addition to routine care in patients with primary headache was compared to routine care alone. In a randomised controlled trial plus non-randomised cohort study, patients with headache were allocated to receive up to 15 acupuncture sessions over three months or to a control group receiving no acupuncture during the first three months. Patients who did not consent to randomisation received acupuncture treatment immediately. All subjects were allowed to continue usual medical care. Of 15,056 headache patients (mean age 44, 77% female), 1613 were randomised to acupuncture and 1569 to control, while 11,874 were included in the non-randomised acupuncture group. At three months, the number of days with headache decreased from 8.4 to 4.7 in the acupuncture group and from 8.1 to 7.5 in the control group. Intensity of pain and quality of life improvements were also more pronounced in the acupuncture vs. control groups. Treatment success was maintained at six months and the outcome changes in non-randomised patients were similar to those in randomised patients. The authors conclude that acupuncture plus routine care in patients with headache is associated with marked clinical improvements compared with routine care alone. (Acupuncture in patients with headache. Cephalalgia. 2008 Jul 2. [Epub ahead of print]).
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