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.