Acupuncture for Migraine - Interpreting a New Study

Teri Robert @trobert Health Guide
  • Patients and health care professional alike diligently search for any treatments that are effective for Migraines. Researchers have been looking at acupuncture for several years. Italian and Brazilian trials have shown acupuncture to be more effective than sham for Migraine prevention, but other trials showed no difference.2 In 2009, a Cochrane Review of  33 trials concluded that the placement of the needles might not be the key factor. Dr. Klause Linde of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the Technical University of Munich in Germany stated,

    "Much of the clinical benefit of acupuncture might be due to non-specific needling effects and powerful placebo effects, meaning that the selection of specific needle points may be less important than many practicioners have traditionally argued."1 

    A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal concluded that "Acupuncture tested appeared to have a clinically minor effect on migraine prophylaxis compared with sham acupuncture."2

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    Study methods:

    • 480 patients were randomly assigned to one of four groups
      • Shaoyang-specific acupuncture
      • Shaoyang-nonspecific acupuncture
      • Yangming-specific acupuncture
      • sham acupuncture (control group_
    • Over a period of four weeks, patients in all groups received 20 treatments including electrical stimulation.
    • Primary outcome measured: the number of Migraine days experienced during weeks five through eight after being assigned to the groups.
    • Secondary outcomes measured:
      • frequency of Migraine attacks
      • Migraine intensity
      • Migraine-specific quality of life

    Study results:

    • When compared to the control group, participants in the acupuncture groups:
      • showed no difference in number of Migraine days in weeks five through eight.
      • showed a "clinically minor effect" during weeks 13-16.
      • demonstrated a significant but not clinically relevant benefit for the secondary outcomes.
      • demonstrated no relevant differences between the three acupuncture groups.

    Study conclusion:

    "...we found that the outcomes following acupuncture were significantly better than with sham acupuncture during weeks 13–16, but the effect was clinically minor."2

    Summary and comments:

    It seems that most studies agree that acupuncture is somewhat better than a sham procedure in trials. Some, including this one, say the effect is "clinically minor."


    Still, given the lack of Migraine-specific preventive treatments and the trial-and-error process that Migraineurs must endure to find effective preventive treatment, why not try acupuncture? Unlike many medications, it doesn't have potential side effects, and even "clinically minor" effect is better than none.



    1 Staff Reporter "Acupuncture 'works for headaches.'" BBC News. January 21, 2009.


    2 Li, Ying; Zheng, Hui; Witt, Claudia M.' Roll, Stephanie; Yu, Shu-guang; Yan, Jie; Sun, Guo-jie; Zhao, Ling; Huang, Wen-jing; Chang, Xiao-rong; Zhang, Hong-xing; Want, De-jun, Lan, Lei; Zou, Ran; Liang, Fan-rong. "Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized controlled. trial." CMAJ. January 9, 2012.

    Live well,

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    Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD


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    © Teri Robert, 2012. Last updated January 17, 2012.

Published On: January 17, 2012