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