Headaches are associated with pain that can be trifling when mild and disabling when severe. A minor headache may not be a cause of concern, although what causes it is still unclear. However, some headaches, such as those that develop after the age of 50 and are accompanied by other symptoms like fever, confusion, or painful red eye, maybe warnings signs and require immediate medical care. When headaches become persistent daily occurrences, they can affect an individual’s quality of life. In a recent study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, researchers from Brazil assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture as an auxiliary analgesic treatment for chronic headaches. Acupuncture is a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve pain caused by energy imbalance. The researchers examined its influence on quality of life and found that it can cause significant improvement in patients with chronic headache.
Acupuncture can reduce pain intensity and analgesics use in patients with chronic headaches
The prevalence of headaches in adults around the world is estimated to be around 46 percent. According to studies on the epidemiology of headache in Brazil, its prevalence there is even higher than estimates for other countries. Chronic headaches, in particular, are of note since they require continuous treatment with preventive drug combinations that sometimes are not well-tolerated by patients. When these medications fail, patients look for alternatives or supplementary therapies for conventional treatment. (Related: Got a headache? Foods and the active components within them that will alleviate even the toughest headaches fast.)
Acupuncture has long been used to address painful conditions, such as headaches, back pain, knee pain, and neck pain. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in relieving primary headaches, in particular, migraines and tension headaches. Thei results suggest that acupuncture is capable of providing pain relief, promoting relaxation, and producing homeostatic effects that stimulate psychological harmonization in an individual. Due to these benefits, it is considered to be a safe, non-pharmaceutical therapy with very few associated adverse effects.
For their study, the researchers recruited 34 patients who were suffering from chronic headaches. These patients were all using medications recognized as standard treatment, such as topiramate, propranolol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The researchers divided them into two groups: The first group received acupuncture treatment that stimulated nerve endings at specific points according to traditional Chinese medicinal practice. These targeted points were determined by the type of headache each patient had. Meanwhile, the second group received sham acupuncture for which non-invasive masking (no needle contact) was used. The same acupuncturist performed the treatment in both groups, and the same acupuncture points were used.
For their assessment, the researchers considered the verbal numeric scale before (VNS0) and after (VNS1) treatment, the number of crisis, and the number of analgesics used during the first and second months of treatment. They also assessed the participants’ quality of life before and after treatment using the Brazilian version of the Quality of Life Questionnaire: SF-6D, 2002. The researchers found that true acupuncture effectively alleviated the pain caused by chronic headache in group 1, and its efficacy was statistically significant in all domains compared with sham acupuncture. In addition, acupuncture also improved the quality of life of patients, with the exception two domains — emotional limitation and mental health — as these already have good basal scores.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that acupuncture can be an auxiliary treatment for chronic headaches because it reduces the intensity of pain, the number of crisis, and the quantity of analgesics used by sufferers. It also improves the quality of life of people who suffer from this painful condition.