Medical Research

Acupuncture for Patients With Chronic Tension-Type Headache

Kristen Sparrow • January 04, 2023

woman with headache
Acupuncture for headache. Safe and effective

A recent study found, in the prestigious journal  Nature, that acupuncture may be effective in reducing the frequency of chronic tension-type headaches. The study included 218 participants who received either true acupuncture or a sham treatment for eight weeks. The group receiving true acupuncture had a higher responder rate and a greater reduction in monthly headache days compared to the sham group at both 16 and 32 weeks of follow-up. There were four mild adverse events reported, three in the true acupuncture group and one in the sham group. The authors suggest that further research should examine the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic tension-type headaches.

I have covered Acupuncture for headache here, and here as well as other posts.

Zheng H, Gao T, Zheng QH, Lu LY, Hou TH, Zhang SS, Zhou SY, Hao XY, Wang L, Zhao L, Liang FR, Li Y. Acupuncture for Patients With Chronic Tension-Type Headache: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Neurology. 2022 Jun 22:10.1212/WNL.0000000000200670. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200670. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35732505.


Background and objectives: Whether acupuncture is effective for chronic tension-type headache (CTTH) is inconclusive. We aimed to examine the effectiveness of acupuncture with a follow-up period of 32 weeks.

Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled trial, and 218 participants who were diagnosed with CTTH were recruited from June 2017 to September 2020. The participants in the intervention group received 20 sessions of true acupuncture (TA group) over 8 weeks. The acupuncture treatments were standardized across participants, and each acupuncture site was needled to achieve deqi sensation. Each treatment session lasted 30 minutes. The participants in the control group received the same sessions and treatment frequency of superficial acupuncture (SA group)-defined as a type of sham control by avoiding deqi sensation at each acupuncture site. The main outcome was the responder rate at 16 weeks after randomization (week 16) and was followed up at week 32. A responder was defined as a participant who reported at least a 50% reduction in the monthly number of headache days (MHDs).

Results: Our study included 218 participants (mean age: 43.1 years, mean disease duration: 130 months, MHDs: 21.5 days). The responder rate was 68.2% in the TA group (n=110) versus 48.1% in the SA group (n=108) at week 16 (odds ratio, 2.65; 95%CI, 1.5 to 4.77; p<0.001); and it was 68.2% in the TA group versus 50% in the SA group at week 32 (odds ratio, 2.4; 95%CI, 1.36 to 4.3; p<0.001). The reduction in MHDs was 13.1±9.8 days in the TA group versus 8.8±9.6 days in the SA group at week 16 (mean difference, 4.3 days; 95%CI, 2.0 to 6.5; p<0.001), and the reduction was 14±10.5 days in the TA group versus 9.5±9.3 days in the SA group at week 32 (mean difference, 4.5 days; 95%CI, 2.1 to 6.8; p<0.001). Four mild adverse events were reported; three in the TA group versus one in the SA group.

Conclusion: The 8-week TA treatment was effective for the prophylaxis of CTTH. Further studies might focus on the cost-effectiveness of the treatment.