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.