Experts who administered the needles treatment to women suffering from the debilitating condition found they had fewer attacks and needed less painkilling medication. Researchers focused on classical migraine – or migraine with aura – when the piercing headache is preceded by visual disturbances.
They conducted a trial of 160 patients at the Woman’s Headache Centre in Turin. Dr. Gianni Allais and colleagues found that women who received acupuncture had fewer migraines during the first four months of treatment. They also needed less medication than those taking the drug flunarizine, used to prevent blinding headaches.
In the study, reported in the medical journal Headache, Dr. Allais asked 80 women to have acupuncture once a week for two months, then once monthly for an additional four months. Needles were placed in the same points during each treatment, and left in the patient’s body for 20 minutes.
Another group of 80 women had a daily dose of flunarizine for two months, then took it 20 times per month over the next four months. Both groups of women experienced fewer headaches overall, said researchers. However, patients who used acupuncture had fewer migraines than those taking flunarizine during the first four months of the study – an average-of 2.3 attacks compared with 2.9 in the drug group.
And the needles therapy appeared to reduce migraine pain and lower the need for drugs. The findings could help the six million migraine sufferers in Britain. The condition affects 20 per cent of women and six per cent of men. Acupuncture, a therapy which began in China more than 2,000 years ago, involves placing fine needles at specific points on the body’s surface. The needles are said to relax the nervous system around central pain pathways and promote the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
A report from the British Medical Association’s board of science said there was ‘good evidence’ from clinical trials that acupuncture relieved nausea – particularly after surgery – back pain and dental pain.
However, its effect on neck pain, stroke recovery and joint problems was less clear and it did not help patients trying to stop smoking or lose weight.