Acupuncture shows promise in migraine treatment, study says

Story highlights

  • Lack of relief is leading migraine sufferers to seek alternative treatment options
  • A study found that acupuncture may be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines
  • "I can get about 20 headaches in a month on a bad month," one veteran said

(CNN)When most people get a headache, a simple over-the-counter pain reliever and a few moments of quiet can usually do the trick. But for millions of Americans suffering from debilitating migraines, the pain can be so intense that relief may seem out of reach.

Faced with a growing demand for solutions, researchers, drug companies and medical providers have sought out new treatment options. A widening class of medications, devices and alternative therapies is presenting those who suffer from moderate to severe migraines with various options to explore.
    A study published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine said acupuncture may be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines and preventing attacks.
      Researchers in China found that properly administered acupuncture therapy may reduce the frequency of the most common types of migraines. The research, which builds on a body of knowledge from smaller studies, looked at how true acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture in reducing migraine attacks and symptoms in those who have been battling the condition for at least a year.
      All treatments were administered by trained and licensed acupuncturists who trained for at least five years and had four or more years of clinical experience. Recipients of 'true acupuncture' were treated in four acupoints chosen by clinical experts. The four points used for the 'sham' group were chosen to avoid migraine relief.
      Twenty weeks after receiving treatment at five times a week, patients in the true acupuncture group saw a reduction in the average number of migraines from 4.8 per month to 3 per month, with no adverse events reported requiring "special medical intervention."

      Not your everyday headache

      Migraines, a disorder in the brain, can be the source of intense throbbing pain lasting hours or days. About 12% of Americans suffer from them, and some experience pain so severe that it keeps them from being able to continue their day.
      "A migraine is an abnormal state of the brain where the brain has become hyperexcitable to stimuli," said Dr. Amy Gelfand, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. Gelfand provided commentary for the JAMA study about migraines.