May 23, 2010
By Pamela Katz Ressler, RN, BSN, HN-BC, MS-PREP student and PREP-AIRED blog moderator
Thank you to 2010 MS-PREP alumna, Nancy Mitchell, for sending along a recent update to the Cochrane Library and the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews addressing acupuncture and tension-type headaches. In a previous Cochrane Review (2001), acupuncture was found to be inconclusive as a treatment for tension-type headaches. However an updated 2009 Cochrane Review on acupuncture and tension-type headaches, which included 11 randomly controlled trials, concluded that acupuncture may be a valuable treatment option for patients suffering from frequent tension-type headaches.
The Cochrane Review stated: “We reviewed 11 trials which investigated whether acupuncture is effective in the prophylaxis of tension-type headache. Two large trials investigating whether adding acupuncture to basic care (which usually involves only treating unbearable pain with pain killers) found that those patients who received acupuncture had fewer headaches. Forty-seven percent of patients receiving acupuncture reported a decrease in the number of headache days by at least 50%, compared to 16% of patients in the control groups. Six trials compared true acupuncture with inadequate or ‘fake’ acupuncture interventions in which needles were either inserted at incorrect points or did not penetrate the skin. Overall, these trials found slightly better effects in the patients receiving the true acupuncture intervention. Fifty percent of patients receiving true acupuncture reported a decrease of the number of headache days by at least 50%, compared to 41% of patients in the groups receiving inadequate or ‘fake’ acupuncture. Three of the four trials in which acupuncture was compared to physiotherapy, massage or relaxation had important methodological shortcomings. Their findings are difficult to interpret, but collectively suggest slightly better results for some outcomes with the latter therapies. In conclusion, the available evidence suggests that acupuncture could be a valuable option for patients suffering from frequent tension-type headache.”
Cochrane Reviews are an integral part of evidence based medicine. It is important to include both allopathic and integrative medicine studies in the rigorous review process to further our knowledge of effective strategies to treat and manage chronic pain conditions.