Acupuncture for recurrent headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials


K Linde, Research Centre for Complementary Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine Il, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technische Universität, Kaiserstr. 9, 80801, München, Germany. Tel. +49 89 3304 1048, fax. +49 89 393484, email. Muenchener.Modell@lrz.


Objective: To assess whether there is evidence that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of recurrent headaches. Design:Systematic review. Study selection:Randomized or quasi-randomized clinical trials comparing acupuncture with any type of control intervention for the treatment of recurrent headaches. Data sources: Electronic databases (Medline, Embase, Cochrane Field for Complementary Medicine, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register), personal communications and bibliographies.Data collection and analysis: Information on patients, interventions, methods, and results were extracted by at least two independent reviewers using a pretested form. A pooled estimate of the responder rate ratio (responder rate in treatment group/responder rate in control group) was calculated as a crude indicator of trial results as meta-analysis of more specific outcome data was impossible due to heterogeneity and insufficient reporting. Results:Twenty-two trials, including a total of 1042 patients (median 36, range 10–150), met the inclusion criteria. Fifteen trials were in migraine patients, six in tension-headache patients, and in one trial patients with various headaches were included. The majority of the 14 trials comparing true and sham acupuncture showed at least a trend in favor of true acupuncture. The pooled responder rate ratio was 1.53 (95% confidence interval 1.11 to 2.11). The eight trials comparing acupuncture and other treatment forms had contradictory results. Conclusions:Overall, the existing evidence suggests that acupuncture has a role in the treatment of recurrent headaches. However, the quality and amount of evidence is not fully convincing. There is urgent need for well-planned, large-scale studies to assess effectiveness and efficiency of acupuncture under real life conditions.