While tension headaches aren’t as severe as their more intense cousin, the migraine headache, they do occur with greater frequency, and can have a debilitating effect on the quality of life for some patients if left untreated. Tension headaches 1 are generally caused by a tightening of the muscles around the upper back, neck, and head; oftentimes the sensation is described as a constriction around the skull, like being caught in a vise. These symptoms can last for as little as half an hour, or can persist for days at a time 2 .
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and are often caused by stress. While pain relievers such as aspirin can be a sort-term solution, for those who suffer chronic tension headaches, acupuncture may have a more lasting effect.
How does acupuncture get relief from headaches?
Acupuncture works on a number of levels to help treat the symptoms of tension headaches, the most apparent of which would be relaxation of the muscles. Acupuncture involves needling of specific sites in the body, called Acupoints or myofascial trigger points (TrP’s), that produce nerve impulses that release tension in the muscle groups. Additionally, acupuncture also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter Serotonin and Endorphins in the body, which contribute to pain relief and are a huge factor in managing stress.
In a systematic review of studies done on the efficacy of acupuncture in treating tension headaches, Cochrane found that when used in conjunction with other pain-relief solutions (like aspirin or massage), acupuncture was successful in reducing headache frequency by at least half in nearly 50% of the population 3 . This is a huge increase over the results obtained through the application of usual care on its own, where only about 17% of participants saw an improvement. Acupuncture continued to show true, lasting results when measured against fake or “sham” acupuncture in the same trials.
Another study presented in Acupuncture Today showed a definite, measureable increase in the percentage of responders (people who experienced a 50% reduction or higher in the frequency of their headaches) to acupuncture therapy, and even those who receive a minimal amount of acupuncture faired significantly better than those who received none at all 4 . Especially when compared with treatments such as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), sham acupuncture, and standard therapy, research has consistently shown acupuncture to be a favorable alternative therapy in treating the pain and frequency of tension headaches 5 .
In addition to these documented successes, acupuncture has the added benefit of rare and minimal negative side effects or opportunities for allergic reactions. Pain-relieving drugs and muscle relaxers can cause effects like drowsiness and nausea, but acupuncture uses no chemicals that produce harmful reactions in the body. Acupuncture will also treat the health of your entire body, rather than focusing on temporarily reducing the severity of symptoms 6 .
If you think that acupuncture may be an option for your tension headaches, you can get more information by coming in for a free 15 minute evaluation consultation.