THURSDAY, June 23, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Tension headaches can make you feel like a vise is squeezing your entire head, and if you’re among the millions who are prone to these devastating headaches, a new study brings good news.
Acupuncture can help prevent tension headaches.
People with chronic tension headaches who received 20 real acupuncture sessions over two months had fewer headache days than people who received superficial acupuncture techniques, and this improvement lasted for nearly eight months.
How exactly acupuncture helps inhibit chronic tension headaches isn’t fully understood, but researchers have their theory.
First, “the acupuncture procedure provides relaxation in tension headache patients, which helps relax the scalp muscles,” said study author Dr. Ying Li, a researcher at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China.
The study involved 218 people who experienced tension headaches for at least 15 days a month.
A full 68% of those in the true acupuncture group reported at least a 50% reduction in the number of headache days they experienced each month. That was comparable to half of those in the superficial acupuncture group.
True acupuncture aims to achieve what is known as a “deqi” sensation, which is characterized by tingling, numbness, and heaviness. Superficial acupuncture is not deep enough for this to happen.
For study participants who received real acupuncture, headache days were reduced from 20 per month to seven.
In contrast, the number of headache days decreased from 23 days per month to 12 days per month in participants who received superficial acupuncture.
Now, Li and colleagues plan to investigate how cost-effective acupuncture for tension headaches is compared to conventional treatments.
The new study was published online on June 22 in the journal Neurologyright
For people with frequent tension headaches, preventive treatments are available to reduce the frequency of headaches. But not everyone responds well to these drugs, and some people prefer to avoid them, says Dr. Brian Grosberg, director of the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center in Hartford, Conn.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help at this point, but for people with chronic tension headaches, overuse can cause a “rebound effect” with more frequent headaches, he says.
“Depending on the drug being overused, caution may be necessary with the effects of the drug on the liver, kidneys, and digestive system,” said Grosberg, who reviewed the results of the new study.
For prevention, medications such as tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and muscle relaxants can provide relief. But this has side effects, he said.
“We now have good evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic tension headaches,” says Grosberg. “This study helps move acupuncture from its unproven status in complementary medicine to an acceptable evidence-based treatment for patients with chronic tension headache.”
Kim Tsao, an acupuncturist in New York City, often uses a similar method to treat and prevent tension headaches.
“Tension headaches can also be associated with neck and lower back pain and insomnia,” says Tsao. As part of her medication regimen, she will also activate points associated with stress and other factors that contribute to tension headaches. The best part? Unlike many medications, acupuncture has no side effects, said Tsao, who also reviewed the new study.
The American Migraine Foundation has more on recognizing and treating tension headaches.
SOURCES: Ying Li, MD, PhD, researcher, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu, China; Brian Grosberg, MD, director, Hartford Health Care Headache Center, Hartford, Conn.; Kim Tsao, acupuncturist, New York City; NeurologyJune 22, 2022, online