How effective is the use of acupuncture for headache?

Acupuncture is not a proven remedy for the treatment of headache. However, there are many individuals who cite acupuncture as having contributed somewhat to their improvement. While we await well-controlled studies establishing this point, we would not discourage anyone from undertaking acupuncture treatment to relieve their pain. At least short-term benefit might result. We recommend that licensed and highly skilled individuals be consulted.

In the journal Alterative Therapies (September-October 2003), a review of numerous research results was carried out inquiring into the effectiveness of acupuncture for headaches of unknown cause (idiopathic). The authors compared 26 trials including a total of 1,151 patients. They concluded that the majority of trials had “methodological and/or reporting shortcomings.” The trials examined both tension-type headache and migraine. The authors noted that the “quality and amount of evidence are not fully convincing . . .” that acupuncture is a valuable treatment for idiopathic headache. It was noted that few adverse effects were associated with acupuncture, therefore limiting associated cost of treatment.

On the other hand, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found clear evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, the nausea of pregnancy, and postoperative dental pain. In 2000 the British Medical Association’s Board of Science and Education also approved acupuncture for such conditions as nausea and vomiting, dental and back pain, and migraine headache.