Everyone has experienced a headache at some point, but according to the National Headache Foundation over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, 28 million of these suffering from migraines. The most common types of chronic headaches are tension headaches, migraines and sinus headaches. Each type presents with mild to severe pain associated with other symptoms such as muscle tension, nausea or facial pressure.

Can Acupuncture Help?

Several clinical studies have shown acupuncture to be an effective option for treating chronic headaches. In one study published in the March 15th issue of the British Medical Journal researchers randomly divided 401 adults with chronic headaches into 2 groups. One group received standard medical care while the second group received 12 acupuncture treatments over a three month span in addition to standard medical care. One year after treatment those who received acupuncture:

  • Experienced 22 fewer days with headaches
  • Made 25% fewer visits to their doctor
  • Took 15% fewer days off sick from work than the control group
  • Used 15% less medication

Local research by Remy Coeytaux, MD (assistant professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine) demonstrated similar findings. Dr. Coeytaux’s study, published in the October 2005 issue of the journal Headache, found that overall those who received acupuncture along with standard medical care were 3.7 times more likely to report less suffering from chronic headaches compared with those who received standard medical treatment alone.

How Can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture Help my headaches?

In TCM there are many different possible causes for headaches. Diagnosis of the headache takes into account several aspects of a person’s health including sleep, digestion and emotional tendencies such as anger and stress. Information about all of these symptoms can help the acupuncturist differentiate the overall pattern of disharmony causing the headaches. By treating the individual pattern, instead of the diagnosis of headache, the patient will experience healing in many areas of their health including resolution of the headaches.

What Will the Treatments Be Like and How Many Will I Need?

The first appointment will include a detailed medical history interview as well as an acupuncture treatment. The acupuncture points are tailored to the individual patient’s pattern of symptoms. In general when treating headaches, acupuncture needles are inserted in the face, head and neck but can also be used on the hands, feet, forearms, lower legs and back during each 30- to 60-minute visit. The needles are disposable and the diameter of two human hairs. Patients report feeling little or no pain with the needle insertion and usually look forward to the deep sense of relaxation they feel during the treatments.

The number of visits you’ll need usually depends on the severity of your headaches, although patients should start feeling better after a few treatments. After the first visit, the acupuncturist will develop a treatment plan which outlines how often and how many treatments the patient will need. The results of treatment are thought to be cumulative which means that it is worth it to come initially more frequently. Getting treated twice a week for two weeks will establish a healing trend which then may only need to be maintained by weekly or eventually monthly treatments. If you make the commitment to get treated regularly early on, the acupuncture will have a more significant effect and you will need less treatments in the long term.