Traditional & “Sham” Acupuncture Both Effective for Migraine Relief

I don’t normally republish press releases without further investigation, but I’m going to today because 1) It is from the American Headache Society and quotes my headache specialist, whom I trust immensely; 2) It provides a novel, scientific perspective on why acupuncture may help migraine (the focus is on endorphins and the effect they have on inflammation and pain signals, not the usual talk of meridians and energy flow); and 3) I have a killer migraine.

American Headache Society Supports the Use of Acupuncture in Migraine Treatment: Both Traditional Acupuncture and “Sham” Acupuncture Provide Relief

Mt. Royal, NJ (February 1, 2012) – When it comes to treating migraine, so-called “sham” acupuncture (where needles are inserted only to a superficial depth in the skin and not in specific sites) and traditional acupuncture where needles are inserted in specific sites, both are effective, according to the American Headache Society (AHS).

Citing publicity surrounding a recent Canadian study comparing the effectiveness of the two types of acupuncture, David W. Dodick, MD, AHS president, said both types of acupuncture, particularly when electrical stimulation is involved, may work to release endorphins that are important in controlling signals of pain and inflammation.

“How much of a benefit sham acupuncture can have on the release of these chemicals is unclear,” he said. “This suggests the benefits of treatment may not depend on the exact technique of acupuncture and needle positioning.”

There is ample evidence supporting the value of acupuncture in migraine treatment, Dr. Dodick noted, including four studies that compared acupuncture to standard migraine preventive medications. Acupuncture was found to be at least as effective and produced fewer side effects.  Further, he noted that a randomized clinical trial study published in November comparing acupuncture to topiramate in chronic migraine prevention showed that acupuncture was more effective than topiramate. Topiramate is an anticonvulsant often used in epilepsy.

Dr. Dodick said that needle positioning may be less relevant than acupuncturists believe, and acupuncture should be offered to patients as part of their options for migraine management.  “Further, the long-lasting effects of acupuncture, given that subjects continued to experience a reduction in migraine frequency two months after treatment, is also noteworthy and not a point to be ignored,” he said.

“Along with biofeedback training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes, acupuncture provides some migraine sufferers with a safe, non-pharmacologic treatment choice, and one that can also be used during pregnancy,” Dr. Dodick said.