In the study, almost 500 adults — most of whom had an average six days of migraines a month — were treated with either traditional Chinese acupuncture or a sham treatment in which acupuncture needles were inserted in nonspecific points.
While all of the participants reported fewer days with migraines immediately after the treatments and in the month following, lasting effects were seen only in study participants who received traditional acupuncture. Three months after treatment, those people continued to report a reduction in migraine days, frequency, and intensity, while those who received the sham treatment did not.
Although the study only showed a marginal benefit of real acupuncture over sham acupuncture, researcher Claudia Witt, MD, of University Medical Center Charité in Berlin, says previous research suggests that people who respond best to acupuncture treatments are those who’ve had positive experiences with acupuncture in the past and those who haven’t responded to other treatments.
Albrecht Molsberger, MD, a medical acupuncture specialist who wrote an editorial on the study, said that even in sham acupuncture, the simple insertion of needles into the skin can lead to fewer migraines and reduced pain, adding, “Putting needles in the patient twice weekly over six weeks does have a [physical] effect, but if we did it the Chinese way, we might be better off.”
“Acupuncture should be an option for the first-line treatment of migraine to supplement other non-[drug] treatment options,” he said.