Headaches. They can turn reading a book, playing a game, working on a computer or bending to hug your kid into a painful experience.
They are also one of the most common physical complaints that prompt people to treat themselves or seek professional assistance. Tension headaches are the most common headaches, and generally cause infrequent mild to moderate pain, and can be caused by stress, lack of sleep, bad posture or substance withdrawal, including nicotine and caffeine. As the name suggests, they are caused by increased muscle tension in the head and neck region.
Treatment for both tension and migraine headaches typically consists of over-the-counter or prescription medications, respectively. These medications can come with some side effects that some people wish to avoid. Acupuncture has been used to relieve headaches and migraines for thousands of years, and without side effects! Acupuncture can provide patients who suffer from tension and migraine headache an alternative treatment for their pain.
There has also been evidence published that points to the same — a new systematic review that determines that acupuncture is indeed an effective treatment option.
The review appears in The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates research in all aspects of health care. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing trials on a topic.
The Cochrane review by Linde and his colleagues focused on acupuncture for tension headaches. The researchers evaluated 11 studies that investigated 2,317 participants. The studies compared participants who had undergone acupuncture therapy with those who had no treatment except painkillers for acute headaches, or had a sham therapy, which mimicked true acupuncture. Researchers followed the patients for at least eight weeks.
Two large studies that investigated whether adding acupuncture to treatment with painkillers found that those patients who received acupuncture had fewer headaches. Forty-seven percent of patients who received acupuncture reported a decrease in the number of headache days by at least half, compared with 16 percent of patients in the control groups.
Six studies compared true acupuncture to “fake” acupuncture in which needles were either inserted at incorrect points or did not penetrate the skin. Overall, these studies found slightly better effects in the patients receiving the true acupuncture intervention.
“The response to acupuncture in general seems to be large and clinically relevant,” Linde said.
In addition to treating the symptoms of headaches, acupuncture always looks to the underlying causes as well, and thereby can help to prevent any future occurrences. Acupuncture points to treat headaches are located all over the body. During the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles will be placed along your legs, arms, shoulders, and perhaps even your big toe! The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments. Either way, relief can be found, and without side effects!
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Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for tension-type headaches. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1.