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Keywords:

  • acupuncture;
  • complementary medicine;
  • migraine;
  • tension-type headache;
  • observational study

Objective.—To investigate the characteristics and outcomes of patients undergoing acupuncture treatment for chronic headaches under conditions of routine care provided within the framework of statutory health insurance in Germany. Furthermore, we investigated correlations between different outcomes.

Patients and Methods.—Patients with migraine, episodic or chronic tension-type headache (TTH), or several other forms of chronic headache (cluster, vascular, drug-induced headache; other specific headaches) treated with acupuncture (mean number of sessions 8.6 ± 3.0) were included into an observational study. Detailed questionnaires including questions on headache days and instruments measuring disability (Pain Disability Index) and quality of life (SF-36) were completed before treatment, after treatment, and at 6 months after inclusion.

Results.—A total of 2022 patients (732 with migraine, 351 with episodic and 440 with chronic TTHs, and 499 with other diagnoses) treated by 1418 physicians were included in the main analysis. Sociodemographic and baseline characteristics differed considerably in the four diagnostic groups. Statistically highly significant and clinically relevant improvements were seen for all clinical outcome measures in all diagnostic groups. In 52.6% of patients headache frequency decreased by at least 50% compared to baseline. The comparison of headache frequency, pain intensity, and generic outcome measures showed that some of these outcomes correlate only weakly.

Conclusions.—In this epidemiological study, headache patients reported clinically relevant improvements after receiving acupuncture. Randomized trials performed in parallel to this study confirm the relevant overall effect, however, the effect may largely be due to potent unspecific needling and placebo effects.