Migraine sufferers will do anything to be free of the pulsing, throbbing pain of these debilitating headaches. Three times as common in women than men, sufferers can often tell when they’re about to get a migraine because of warning symptoms just before the headache starts. A new study finds that using acupuncture for migraine helps reduce the number of days patients suffer, and might have longer effects on the body.
In the research, just about 500 participants were treated using either a sham treatment meant to mimic real acupuncture, or authentic traditional Chinese acupuncture. The subjects didn’t know which treatment they were getting during the study that lasted four weeks.
At the end of the trial, all participants reported less days with migraines compared to before the research started. They went from an average of six days with migraines to three days, on average, of migraines per month.
In the month after the treatment, all participants also reported that their headaches were less intense and less frequent than they had been.
However, truly lasting effects were only seen in those participants who had received the traditional acupuncture, not the sham treatment. Three months later, these individuals were still reporting a reduction in the number of days with migraine, as well as improvements in intensity and frequency. Those who got the sham treatment reported none of these things.
And though the current study only found a small benefit to real acupuncture compared with a sham procedure, researchers say that an earlier study has found that those who have the best response to acupuncture are those sufferers who have tried other treatments that haven’t worked, and those who’ve had previous positive experiences with the treatment.
Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest healing practices, seeking to restore and maintain health by stimulating specific points on the body to maintain a balance of body energies. Today acupuncture is widely practiced in the U.S. with an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults (150,000 children) using the alternative treatment in the past year.
The U.S. FDA regulates acupuncture needles, requiring that they be manufactured and labeled according to specific standards. They must be sterile, nontoxic and used one time by qualified practitioners only.
Another study of 300 patients found that acupuncture brings more benefits compared to no acupuncture in treating migraine. Another study on migraine and acupuncture involved 800 subjects and found that 11 treatments over 6 weeks as effective as drugs (beta blockers) used to prevent migraine.
Acupuncture could well be an alternative for treatment of migraine that can work with other non-drug therapies to reduce the painful headaches. Experts from the National Headache Foundation believe that a patient needs to try both preventive and rescue medications before giving acupuncture a try.