Acupuncture for headaches can reduce your symptoms

If you have lots of headaches, that’s no fun at all. So it makes sense that you’re interested in acupuncture for headaches. The good news is that the evidence base is now strong that acupuncture can provide real relief, for both migraines and tension headaches.

Headache symptoms

It might seem like a simple problem, but headache symptoms can be very diverse. For example they can include:

  • Aching, throbbing, pressure or sharp pain
  • At your temples, behind your eyes, behind your forehead, to the rear of your head, or throughout your head
  • On one or both sides of your head

Your headaches may be better or worse:

  • At certain times of the day
  • In certain weather
  • With certain foods
  • With stress
  • With exercise
  • At certain points in your menstrual cycle
  • Etc

In addition they may be accompanied by:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Visual disturbances
  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to sound and light
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Neck and shoulder tension

Which type of headache?

The three most common kinds of primary headaches are:

  • Migraines – if you’ve got these, you probably know all about it! Pulsing pain in your head, which can go on for days, may be accompanied by nausa, vomiting and visual disturbances. You may become very sensitive to bright light or loud sounds. You may be completely debilitated while it lasts. Different people may have different triggers, but they may include certain foods, hormonal shifts, sleep disruption or exposure to chemicals. Read my blog post here about the research showing that acupuncture for headaches can be a cost-effective way of preventing migraines.
  • Tension headaches – these usually give you a dull ache in your whole head, and your neck and shoulders or other parts of your head may feel tense and be sore when you touch them. Stress is a common trigger. Read my blog post here about how acupuncture for headaches can help. The research is positive for both treating and preventing chronic tension headaches.
  • Cluster headaches – again, if you’ve got these, you’ll know about it! You will suffer a severe burning pain, on one side of your head. You may get swelling, redness, tears in your eyes and/or nasal congestion on that side too. Typically each headache won’t last more than three hours, but they’ll recur over a period of time. These headaches are more common at certain times of the year, and more common in men.

Is medication causing your headache?

A lot of progress has been made in recent years in recognising that in some people your headaches are being CAUSED by taking painkillers regularly. As a result these are known as ‘medication overuse headaches‘ or ‘rebound headaches’.

Consequently, even though medication may temporarily relieve this kind of headache, the strain on your body of processing the drug has reached the stage where taking the medication may now be the main driver of your ongoing headaches.

Headaches as a danger sign

Most headaches are not an indicator of another, more serious, underlying disease. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras!

However you should consider seeking medical attention urgently if you have a strong headache accompanied by a rash, fever, neck stiffness, the worst headache you’ve ever had, vomiting, confusion, slurred speech, paralysis and/or loss of vision.

But hopefully your headaches fall outside this category. Still, if they don’t respond to pharmaceutical treatment, acupuncture for headaches, or other commonly useful approaches, I would definitely recommend to get them checked out by your doctor.

Acupuncture for headaches

The evidence base for acupuncture treatment of all kinds of health conditions is at different stages of evolution. Happily, for migraines and tension headaches, a good body of evidence has now built up. In short, we can say with confidence that acupuncture for headaches can bring real benefits.

Book your appointment for acupuncture for headaches

To see how acupuncture for headaches may be able to help you, just get in touch.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

Acupuncture can prevent tension headaches

Research suggests that acupuncture for tension headaches may be able to help.

Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are really common – up to 80% of us may get them from time to time, according to WebMD.

At their worst, they may feel like a vice clamping your head. A milder tension headache may feel like pressure, tension, or dull pain around your forehead or the back of your head. Knock on problems can include tiredness, irritability and sleep problems. (The difference to migraines is that tension headaches don’t usually include eye pain, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, nausea or vomiting.)

If you have these types of headaches more than 15 times a month, they’re known as chronic tension headaches, and if they’re less frequent than that they’re known as episodic tension headaches.

The good news is that a body of scientific evidence has built up to confirm that acupuncture may be able to help.

What does the research say?

The Acupuncture Evidence Project summarises the the research supporting acupuncture for tension headaches like this:

“Chronic tension-type headaches and chronic episodic headaches were not reviewed in the Australian DVA review (2010) and rated as ‘evidence of positive effect’ in the USVA Evidence map of acupuncture (2014) (5, 6). The most recent Cochrane systematic review update confirmed that acupuncture is effective for frequent episodic and chronic tension-type headaches with moderate to low quality evidence (43). A brief review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses described acupuncture as having a potentially important role as part of a treatment plan for migraine, tension-type headache, and several different types of chronic headache disorders (44). Studies in Germany and the UK found acupuncture for chronic headaches to be cost-effective (44).”

In the UK the evidence for acupuncture is considered to be strong enough that NICE recommends acupuncture for the prevention of chronic tension-type headaches:

“Consider a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over 5–8 weeks for the prophylactic treatment of chronic tension‑type headache.”

(NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, is the UK’s governmental body which issues recommendations to health professionals about all medical interventions – including pharmaceuticals and surgery.  Their recommendations are based on their assessment of the evidence for efficacy and cost effectiveness.)

How does acupuncture for headaches work?

From a scientific point of view, there is all kinds of interesting research going on into numerous mechanisms by which acupuncture may affect the body, but viewed through a Chinese medicine lens, treating headaches is about releasing tension in the head. Moving your Qi, your daily bodily energy, where your Qi is stuck.

What will my treatment look like?

Your personal holistic diagnosis, and your individual needs, will be at the heart of your treatment. You are more than just a cluster of headaches! 

Try acupuncture for your headaches

Get in touch today to book your first appointment.


5. Biotext. Alternative therapies and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold and White Card arrangements. In: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs, editor: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs; 2010.

6. Hempel S, Taylor SL, Solloway MR, Miake-Lye IM, Beroes JM, Shanman R, et al. VA Evidence-based Synthesis Program Reports. Evidence Map of Acupuncture. Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs; 2014.

43. Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin BC, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;4:Cd007587.

44. Coeytaux RR, Befus D. Role of Acupuncture in the Treatment or Prevention of Migraine, Tension-Type Headache, or Chronic Headache Disorders. Headache. 2016 Jul;56(7):1238-40.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Acupuncture for migraines has a good evidence base

Happily, acupuncture for migraines is one of the areas that has been best studied by researchers, and a good scientific evidence base has built up. 

If you’re suffering with migraines, you’re definitely not alone, the Migraine Trust tells us that it’s the third most common disease in the world.  Migraines affect one in seven people (Steiner, Stovner, & Birbeck, 2013), so finding something that can help, can make a huge difference.

What does the research say?

Acupuncture can help to prevent migraines, making them less frequent, and it does this at least as well as medication does.  The advantages of acupuncture for migraines include that it is a safe treatment, can have long-lasting results, and is cost effective.

Here’s how the Australian Acupuncture Evidence Project sums up the research supporting acupuncture for migraines:

“Since March 2013 a narrative review of high quality randomised controlled trials and two systematic reviews including a Cochrane systematic review update, have confirmed that acupuncture is superior to sham acupuncture and seems to be at least as effective as conventional preventative medication in reducing migraine frequency (Da Silva, 2015), (Linde et al., 2016) & (Yang, Que, Ye, & Zheng, 2016). Moreover, acupuncture is described as safe, long-lasting and cost effective (Da Silva, 2015). Subgroup analysis in the Cochrane systematic review found that 16 or more treatment sessions showed a larger effect size (Z=4.06) than 12 treatments or fewer (Z=2.32). Evidence levels in these three reviews was moderate to high quality.”

And more recently, in 2024, a further systematic review and meta analysis study (a study of all the available studies) concluded that:

“In terms of efficacy, acupuncture, electroacupuncture, blood-letting and cupping, and special acupuncture method have shown better performance compared to drug therapy in reducing migraine VAS scores [Visual Analog Scale], decreasing migraine frequency, duration, and number of migraine days. Furthermore, combining acupuncture with drug therapy has demonstrated superior efficacy compared to using medication alone for the treatment of migraine.”

“In the context of professional practise, it is important to carefully choose suitable treatment options based on the individual circumstances of the patient.”

How well accepted is this evidence?

The evidence is strong enough that in the UK, NICE recommends acupuncture for migraine prevention

(NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, is the UK’s governmental body which issues recommendations to health professionals about all medical interventions – including pharmaceuticals and surgery.  Their recommendations are based on their assessment of the evidence for efficacy and cost effectiveness.)

How does acupuncture for migraines work?

Chinese Medicine thinks about this in terms of rebalancing your Qi, your vital energy. 

From a Western scientific perspective, the mechanisms of action aren’t yet clear, but there is all sorts of interesting research going on.  Mark Bovey, of the UK’s Acupuncture Research Resource Centre, describes research results so far for the various ways acupuncture may work to reduce migraines in this interesting article.

What will my treatment look like?

My approach puts you at the heart of your treatment.  We’ll discuss your health holistically and in detail, to get a really clear idea of what is happening and how best to approach it.  Your treatment plan will be uniquely tailored to you as an individual.

The best approach for treating your migraines with acupuncture will vary with your specific needs, but acupuncture points on the feet are likely to be relevant, to start to ease the stress which Chinese Medicine would often see as one of the roots of your headaches.

Try acupuncture for your migraines

Get in touch today to book your first appointment.


Da Silva, A. N. (2015). Acupuncture for Migraine Prevention. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 55(3), 470–473.

Liu Y, Wang Y, Mi C, Wang Z, Han Y, Qi X, Ding X. Efficacy of Acupuncture-Related Therapy for Migraine: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. J Pain Res. 2024;17:1107-1132

Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Vertosick, E. A., … White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6), CD001218.

Steiner, T. J., Stovner, L. J., & Birbeck, G. L. (2013). Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14(1), 1.

Yang, Y., Que, Q., Ye, X., & Zheng, G. hua. (2016). Verum versus Sham Manual Acupuncture for Migraine: A Systematic Review of Randomised Controlled Trials. Acupuncture in Medicine, 34(2), 76–83.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay