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Acupuncture can cut tension headaches in half

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According to research published in the journal Neurology, people with chronic tension headaches can reduce the frequency of those headaches by as much as 50 percent with acupuncture. Tension headaches, the most common type, are sometimes described as feeling pressure as if you have a tight band around your head. They are considered chronic if they occur regularly for at least 15 days a month.

The study involved 218 people who had tension headaches on average 22 days per month for 11 years. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups, either to get what the researchers describe as “true acupuncture” or “superficial acupuncture.” Acupuncture, part of ancient traditional Chinese medicine, involves penetrating specific points into the skin with extremely thin needles and then gently moving them.

Its purpose is to improve the flow of energy in the body (known as “qi”, also spelled “chi”), which is believed to improve health. When needles are inserted to the correct depth, the qi sensation occurs and the patient feels a numbness, heaviness or tingling. This sensation is considered the key to successful acupuncture treatment. Study participants in the “true acupuncture” group achieved the qi sensation, but in the “superficial acupuncture” group, needles were not inserted deep enough to create this sensation. Both groups received 20 treatments over a period of two months and were followed for an additional six months.

The number of tension headaches gradually decreased after treatment for people in both groups, but about two-thirds of those who received true acupuncture experienced at least a 50 percent reduction, compared with half of those who received the superficial type. For the “true” group, headache days decreased from 20 per month at the start of the study to seven days per month at the end, compared with a drop from 22 to 12 days per month for the “superficial” group.

This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a close look at the statistical aspect of health problems. Additional information and relevant research is available via the hyperlinks.

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