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Keywords:

  • chronic daily headache;
  • acupuncture;
  • quality of life

Background.—Approximately 4% of adults experience headaches nearly every day. Nonpharmacologic interventions for frequent headaches may be appropriate because medical management alone is often ineffective.

Objective.—To assess the efficacy of acupuncture as an adjunct to medical management for chronic daily headache (CDH).

Methods.—We conducted a randomized, controlled trial of 74 patients with CDH that compared medical management provided by neurologists to medical management plus 10 acupuncture treatments. Primary outcome measures were daily pain severity and headache-related quality of life (QoL).

Results.—Patients who received only medical management did not demonstrate improvement in any of the standardized measures. Daily pain severity scores trended downward but did not differ between treatment groups (P= .60). Relative to medical management only, medical management plus acupuncture was associated with an improvement of 3.0 points (95% CI, 1.0 to 4.9) on the Headache Impact Test and an increase of 8 or more points on the role limitations due to physical problems, social functioning, and general mental health domains of the Short Form 36 Health Survey. Patients who received acupuncture were 3.7 times more likely (CI, 1.7 to 8.1) to report less suffering from headaches at 6 weeks (absolute risk reduction 46%; number needed to treat 2).

Conclusion.—Headache-specialty medical management alone was not associated with improved clinical outcomes among our study population. Supplementing medical management with acupuncture, however, resulted in improvements in health-related QoL and the perception by patients that they suffered less from headaches.