Acupuncture for headache therapy

The first step is to start preventing the risk factors for migraine attacks. If the consumption of cheese or wine is the decisive factor for recurrent attacks, it should definitely be avoided. In addition, the practitioner should generally clarify where the headache has its possible origin.

If the complaints come from the cervical spine or shoulder muscles, physiotherapeutic measures, e.g. massages, are recommended. In stress-induced headaches, regular yoga exercises, exercise and autogenic training have proved helpful. Medications for migraine or tension headaches often have side effects and are sometimes themselves a source of persistent complaints.

What many do not know: The regular intake of painkillers causes headaches! Anyone who takes tablets more than ten days a month or repeatedly for more than three days in a row can get a so-called drug-induced headache. This is usually a dull-pressing continuous pain that is already present when you wake up in the morning and lasts all day.

The cause is a change in the perception of pain. After a while, the receptors on the nerve cells, on which medication constantly acts, react less sensitively, so that the body’s own pain filters are no longer properly controlled and constantly report “pain” to the consciousness. All painkillers can lead to this form of headache.

Patients who suffer from it absolutely need a specialist who can recommend the appropriate treatment option. Therefore, pain medication should not be taken constantly – one of the reasons for trying non-drug therapies. For example, placing acupuncture needles should help to prolong the time between headache attacks and make the pain more bearable.

Studies show that this actually works. It does not seem to matter where and how the needles are inserted: Sham acupuncture helps against migraines and tension headaches just as well as real acupuncture. Headaches and migraines are among the main indications of therapeutic acupuncture.

About one third of patients treated with acupuncture in the West suffer from migraines or headaches. The acupuncture doctor places the needles on the corresponding points of the meridians. However, he does not only treat the superficial layer, i.e. the blockages of the meridians, but also takes into account the deep level of the disturbance pattern in the organs.

Usually therapy is carried out twice a week. On average, about 15 treatments are necessary. In extreme individual cases, a permanent improvement can only be achieved after 30 to 40 treatments.

In the therapy-free interval of 10-14 days after the first treatment series, it is checked whether the headache has improved and whether a second treatment series is advisable. Three months after the end of the therapy, a refresher treatment with three to four acupuncture sessions should take place to ensure long-term success. In Germany, England and the USA, several large-scale studies have been conducted to examine the effect of acupuncture on tension headaches and migraines.

For a controlled study on migraine, the organizers selected nearly 800 patients. They received either normal migraine medication, a needle acupuncture or a “sham acupuncture” – a sham acupuncture in which the needles were not placed on the correct points and only superficially without stimulation. After ten to 15 sessions and half a year, acupuncture patients only suffered from headaches on 3.7 days per month instead of six.

This represents a decrease of 38 percent. In the personal assessment of the severity of the headaches, needle acupuncture was ahead of the other two types of treatment with around 22 percent less pain. But sham acupuncture also had an effect: here the number of migraine days fell by 28 percent.

Treatment with medication, mostly beta-blockers, was between real and sham acupuncture with 33 percent fewer migraine days. In terms of gender, fake acupuncture seems to be particularly successful in women: For them the number of migraine days decreased by 30 percent, for men only by 14 percent. Why the sham acupuncture works so well, the scientists still have no conclusive explanation for this.

The authors of the Munich study believe that the factors “touch” and “conversation” associated with the placement of the needles may be responsible for this. The positive expectations of the patients also seem to play a role. In an overview of four acupuncture studies, it was found that the more optimistic the patients were, the greater the effect.

Even if the needle therapy is not quite cheap (one session costs about 30 to 70 euros), the patient should feel better after only about eight treatments. If the acupuncture is successful, the headaches subside noticeably after ten to 15 treatments. The individual-specific selection of acupuncture points, a classic stitching technique with manual stimulation of the needles and the number of sessions are of considerable importance for a long lasting freedom from symptoms. It should also be noted that the side effects are very low and a large patient group is reached during the therapy. The evaluation of the studies now opens the way for the reimbursement of acupuncture costs by the health insurance companies.