Can acupuncture help with regular headaches?

It is always gratifying to be able to say very positively that it has been accepted that acupuncture can be used to treat regular/chronic tension-type headaches. The latest NICE guidelines recommend a course of up to 10 sessions to deal with the problem.
 
Although we are very pleased with the acceptance of acupuncture for another 'condition', as our Research Officer Mark Bovey writes in an article here
 
http://www.acnr.co.uk/2013/01/acupuncture-for-headache/
 
we treat a little cautiously, even with such encouraging news. The kinds of research which are accepted by the conventional medical establishment favour trials of a design which we would not use to look at acupuncture. The more the treatments fit the protocol, the less they resemble what a skilled practitioner would do in clinic. Chinese medicine is dynamic and evolutionary; when someone has treatment, the treatment is adjusted for how things progress, whereas in research trials people use the same points formula over and over again.
 
What this means from our perspective, though, is, to use the quote from George Orwell's famous novel Animal Farm, 'two legs good, four legs better'. If sub-optimal treatment, i.e. formula treatment has been shown to work for treating headaches, specifically designed treatment is likely to be more effective still. The match between western named conditions and Chinese medicine diagnosis is often not a precise one. A single symptom like a headache could result from dozens of different causes as understood by Chinese medicine, and the skill and art of the practitioner lies in assessing the unique balance of the patient to determine how to deal with this unique presentation.
 
Our factsheet on headaches
 
http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/headache.html
 
also gives some useful background on headaches and research, but our advice remains the same as we would give for any condition for which the evidence was not necessarily as strong: visit a BAcC member local to you and ask for a brief face to face assessment of whether acupuncture treatment may be beneficial to you. There are occasions, for example, where someone may feel that cranial osteopathy or another form of treatment was more appropriate, and we trust our members to do what is best for the patient, not simply to book patients in willy-nilly.     

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