British doctors have found that acupuncture can reduce the number of days of migraine a person has a year, as well as reducing the amount of medication they need and days off work. The results of their study are published on the website of the British Medical Journal.
How did the study work?
The study was designed to look at the use of acupuncture as an option for GPs prescribing treatment for migraines and tension-type headaches. GPs randomly offered their patients either standard treatment (medication and GP advice) or standard treatment plus acupuncture. Those who received acupuncture had up to 12 acupuncture sessions over the space of three months.
How many people were studied?
The doctors identified 401 people with chronic headache, most of them had migraines while the others had tension-type headaches. All the people were aged 18-65 years old and had an average of at least two headaches a month.
What were the results?
At the end of 12 months, people who had acupuncture in addition to standard treatment had 34 percent less severe headaches than people who only received standard treatment. Before treatment, the acupuncture group had a mean weekly headache score of 24.6 which fell to 16.2 after 12 months. The group that recieved only standard treatment had a weekly headache score of 26.7 before treatment and a score of 22.3 after 12 months.
During the 12-month study, people who had acupuncture in addition to standard treatment reported 15.6 days of headache during the four weeks before treatment and only 11.4 days of headache in four weeks at the end of the 12-month period. In contrast, those people who received standard treatment only reported 16.2 days of headache in the four weeks before treatment and 13.6 days of headache in four weeks at the end of the 12-month period.
These results mean that the people who recieved acupunture with standard treatment had 1.8 days less of headache every four weeks, when compared with those who did not have acupuncture. This works out as 21.6 days less of headache a year.
Over the 12-month period of the study, people who received acupuncture with standard treatment took a mean number of 12.6 days off from work (standard deviation of 18.9 days). In comparison, the standard treatment only group took 13.8 days off from work (standard deviation of 16.2 days). When these results were analysed statistically, the result is that the acupuncture group took 15 percent less days off work.
How were these results measured?
People filled in a headache diary for four weeks before their treatment started. They then repeated this at three months and one year after starting treatment. They were asked to assess the severity of their headache on a six-point scale four times a day. These scores were added together to give a daily headache score.
In addition, people filled in questionnaires that measured their use of headache treatments and days off sick from work.
What does this mean?
Most doctors agree that acupuncture can play a useful role in reducing pain from headaches but, up until now, the evidence has not been conclusive. This study provides further evidence for the benefits of acupuncture as a treatment for migraine. This is because the study was controlled, the people studied were randomly assigned to either standard treatment or standard treatment plus acupuncture, and the study involved a sizeable number of people.
In addition, the study also shows that acupuncture appears to offer long-lasting benefits. Most of the acupuncture group only received acupuncture for the first three months of treatment, yet their headache severity scores were significantly lower than those for standard-treament only when measured a full nine months after acupuncture treatment had stopped.
What do the study’s authors believe this study shows?
The authors of this study believe that the results show that the use acupuncture in addition to standard treatment leads to persisting, clinically useful benefits for people with chronic headache, particularly migraine. They argue that acupuncture should be used more widely to treat headaches.