Acupuncture and Headache
Headache is one of the most frequent reasons for medical consultations, in both general practice and neurology clinics. Tension-type headaches occur in up to around 80% of the UK adult population, and are more prevalent in women (65% of cases in one survey). Symptoms begin before the age of 10 years in 15% of people with chronic tension-type headache, and prevalence declines with age. The origin of tension-type headache could be due to many factors, but how they develop is still unclear; there is a family history of some form of headache in 40% of people with chronic tension-type headache.
Tension-type headaches are characterised by pain that is typically mild or moderate in intensity, bilateral, and pressing or tightening in quality, but does not worsen with physical activity. There may be accompanying photophobia or phonophobia, but no nausea. The headaches are daily or very frequent, and last from minutes to days.
The aim of conventional treatment is to reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of headache, with minimal adverse effects from treatment. Prescribed and over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are taken to alleviate headaches.(Watson 2008)
How acupuncture can help
Evidence from the most up-to-date and highest quality systematic review showed that there are clinically relevant benefits of adding acupuncture to routine care and also a statistical advantage of 'true' acupuncture over sham interventions. On the other hand, there was no apparent superiority compared to other non-pharmacological treatments such as physiotherapy and relaxation.
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress.
Acupuncture may help to relieve tension-type headache by:
• increasing endorphins and neuropeptide Y levels, which can help to combat negative affective states;
• stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord;
• reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors ;
• increasing local microcirculation, which aids dispersal of swelling.
(Please contact me if you would like details of evidence-based research.)
If you would like to know more about how acupuncture can help you, or if you would like to know more, please give me a call!