New Chinese research has found evidence that acupuncture could reduce migraines, and could even be an effective alternative to medication.
Led by researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology along with colleagues at various institutions in Wuhan, the new study looked at 147 patients with an average age of 37 and with a history of migraine without aura, also called common migraine as it is the most common type of migraine headache.
After having been followed for a period of four weeks, the participants were randomly allocated to receive either 20 sessions of manual (real) acupuncture at true acupuncture points plus their usual care, 20 sessions of non-penetrating sham (placebo) acupuncture at non-acupuncture points plus their usual care, or only their usual care, which included advice on lifestyle and self-management, over a period of eight weeks.
None of the patients had received acupuncture before, and all were told not to take any painkillers or other treatments during the study.
The researchers then compared changes in migraine attacks every four weeks.
The findings, published by The BMJ today, showed that the participants who received manual acupuncture had a greater reduction in migraine days compared to those who received sham acupuncture, with the researchers noting that the adjusted difference between manual and sham acupuncture was 1.4 fewer migraine days at weeks 13 to 16, and 2.1 fewer migraine days and at weeks 17 to 20.
Sham acupuncture did bring a small benefit compared to receiving usual care only, resulting in a minor reduction in migraine attacks compared with usual care (1.6 v 0.4) during weeks 17 to 20.
Importantly, no severe adverse events were reported by any participants.
The researchers recognize that there were some limitations in their study, such as the short study period of 20 weeks, and they note that further research is still needed. However, they add that the findings do show that treatment with manual acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture or usual care, "resulted in a significantly higher reduction in the frequency of migraine days and migraine attacks."
They add that acupuncture "can be recommended as a prophylactic treatment" and clinicians "should provide patients with information about acupuncture as an option when discussing prophylactic treatment strategies."
In a linked editorial, Heather Angus-Leppan, a consultant neurologist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, added that "We now have good evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for episodic migraine," adding that although longer term studies are needed, as nearly 90 percent of people with frequent migraine have no effective preventive treatment, "acupuncture provides a useful additional tool in our therapeutic armory."