By Mark Bovey, research manager at the British Acupuncture Council
Chronic migraine affects approximately 2% of the world population and three times as many women as men get migraines.
Research suggests that there are more than 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK. (Steiner et al, 2003)
Acupuncture is a therapy in which thin needles are inserted into the skin at particular points. It originated in China, and is now used in many countries to treat people with migraine.
There is a large body of evidence to suggest that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of migraine.
A systematic Cochrane review supports acupuncture for migraine
A systematic review of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis, conducted by Cochrane in 2016, included 4,985 participants in 25 randomised controlled trials, firmly placing it among the most well studied treatments.
The review found that adding acupuncture to symptomatic treatment of attacks reduces the frequency of headaches. Contrary to previous findings, the updated evidence also suggested that there is an effect over sham, but this effect is small. Sham is simply a diluted form of acupuncture, not a placebo, so the difference would not be expected to be large.
It also showed that the available trials also suggested that acupuncture may be at least similarly effective as treatment with prophylactic drugs.