In the recent past, medical doctors wholeheartedly rejected acupuncture along with all so-called alternative medicine. The explanation for its effectiveness based on regulating the body’s qi, or energy, didn’t correspond to medical explanations for illness, and there were few studies on its effectiveness. Recently, though, studies have been performed that show acupuncture can be effective for many conditions, and people are increasingly accepting of this alternative treatment.

But does the science show that it’s effective for headaches? The data is mixed.

Can acupuncture cure headaches?

Acupuncture for Tension Headaches

One way to get a good idea about the effectiveness of a particular treatment is to look at a review of the studies performed on the treatment. Reviews critically compile and compare all the data to determine whether science supports the treatment or not. And the most well-respected reviews come from the Cochrane Library.

Fortunately, the Cochrane Review for acupuncture treatment of tension headaches has recently been updated. The conclusion is that acupuncture is actually effective at preventing tension headaches.

Reviewers relied on two large trials that compared acupuncture to the use of routine care. One of the trials showed that acupuncture led to 48% of people seeing their headache frequency cut in half, compared to only 19% of those in routine care. The second trial had a similar headache reduction with acupuncture. About 45% of people receiving acupuncture had half as many headaches, but only 4% of those receiving routine care saw that level of benefit.

That seems pretty good, but these trials weren’t blinded or placebo-controlled. Why does that matter? A placebo is something that makes you think you’re getting treatment, so you think you’re getting better, even if the treatment has no real effect. This is a big problem in acupuncture trials. One study that compared true acupuncture to fake acupuncture showed that while 51% of those getting acupuncture saw half as many headaches, so did 43% of those who got fake acupuncture. In other words, just thinking you’re getting acupuncture might account for 80-90% of the total effect.

Acupuncture for Migraines

But what about migraine headaches? The Cochrane Review comes to similar conclusions, although it hasn’t been updated. The conclusion is that there’s a potential preventive effect for acupuncture that is comparable to many prescription migraine prevention drugs.

Of course, the evidence for migraine prevention with acupuncture also has a similar problem as for tension headaches. Whenever researchers compare true acupuncture with fake acupuncture, the results are about the same. For this Cochrane Review, researchers propose that it might not matter exactly where needles are put for migraine prevention. This is possible, but it does somewhat undermine the theory of acupuncture that you could just randomly stick yourself with needles to experience the same benefit.

Alternative Headache Treatments Deserve Consideration

If you think that medical treatment and medications are your only option for eliminating your headaches, think again. It’s important to reconsider your options. There are many approaches outside the medical mainstream that can be very effective for migraines and other headaches.

One of these is TMJ treatment. TMJ treatment can help prevent headaches by eliminating muscle tension and nerve overstimulation that underlies both migraines and tension headaches.

To learn whether TMJ treatment can help you, please call (248) 656-2020 for an appointment with a Rochester, MI TMJ dentist at Rochester Advanced Dentistry.