Acupuncture May Reduce Chronic Tension-Type Headaches


Patients recorded their symptoms and use of acute medications in a headache diary.

Acupuncture may reduce headaches for people who have chronic tension-type headaches, according to a study published online in Neurology.

Tension-type headaches cause a pressing or tightening feeling on both sides of the head with mild to moderate intensity. These types of headaches are considered chronic if they occur at least 15 days per month.

“Tension-type headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and people who have a lot of these headaches may be looking for alternatives to medication,” said study author Ying Li, MD, PhD, of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China, in a press release. “Our study found that acupuncture reduces the average number of headache days per month for those struggling with these painful and disruptive headache attacks.”

The study included 218 people who experienced chronic tension-type headaches for an average of 11 years with 22 headache days per month. The participants were randomized to receive either true acupuncture or superficial acupuncture. In true acupuncture treatments, a deqi sensation is created, which involves placing and moving a needle in the body to reach a tingling, numbness, or heaviness feeling. Superficial treatments had a lesser depth in the body to avoid achieving the deqi sensation.

Both groups received 2 or 3 sessions per week for a total of 20 sessions for 2 months and they were followed for an additional 6 months.

The results showed a reduction of at least 50% in the number of days with headaches, and all participants had clinic visits every 4 weeks. Further, patients recorded their symptoms and use of acute medications in a headache diary.

The study found that 68% of people receiving true acupuncture reported at least a 50% reduction in the monthly number of headache days compared to 50% of those who received superficial acupuncture.

The researchers noted that the number of monthly headache days gradually declined following treatment in both patient groups who received true acupuncture treatments and superficial acupuncture treatments. The headache days dropped from 20 days per month in those who received true acupuncture from the beginning of the study to 7 days per month by the end of the study. In superficial acupuncture, headache days fell from 23 days per month at the beginning of the study to 12 days per month at the end of the study.

“While this study showed that acupuncture can reduce headaches, more research is needed to determine the longer-term effectiveness of acupuncture and how it compares to other treatment options,” Li said in the press release. “In comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”

A study limitation was that the research was conducted in a single hospital, therefore the results may not be representative of all populations.


CAN ACUPUNCTURE REDUCE HEADACHES? American Academy of Neurology. June 22, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022.

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