Health Team

Chronic headaches? Try needles, study says

Posted December 29, 2008 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:11 p.m. EDT

— Chronic headaches affect one-in-six Americas, or about 45 million people. Some people have reported relief with the help of an ancient Chinese therapy – acupuncture.

Maria Bruno said she never knew when a chronic headache might strike and disrupt time with family or work.

“Sometimes, when I would be out of commission for a whole weekend, my head would hurt so bad,” she said.

Allergies were the major cause of Bruno’s headaches. After medications failed, she turned to sinus surgery.

“That worked really well for about a year, and then it seemed like it got even worse after that,” she said.

Then, a friend suggested acupuncture.

“It just works with your body's natural system without the side effects of some medications or other avenues that you might try,” said Tory Wegner, a licensed acupuncturist.

The ancient Chinese art is gaining more acceptance in mainstream medical circles, not because it's completely understood, but because it works.

“There are certain points that are useful, not only in treating chronic headache, but also acute post-operative pain,” said Dr. T.J. Gans, an a anesthesiologist at Duke.

Gans, who is also a licensed acupuncturist, led an analysis of several studies and found two out of three patients who received acupuncture for their chronic headaches said the therapy helped.

A study that compared acupuncture to medication found most patients prefer the needles. Bruno said she relies on both.

“I'm on a very small dosage of preventive medicine I take every night, and the combination of that with the acupuncture made a big difference,” she said.

Bruno gets treatment once every three weeks, which she says helps her carry on with the life she wants to live.

Gans recommends people ask acupuncturists if they are licensed to practice the therapy. Get a list of licensed acupuncturists in North Carolina.