Traditional acupuncture treatments for migraines are no better at reducing pain than sham acupuncture treatments, researchers have found, contradicting earlier research.
But, in an unexpected twist, both methods appear to significantly reduce migraine frequency.
"Sham acupuncture seems to be very potent compared to no treatment," said lead researcher Klaus Linde, a clinical epidemiologist at the Technische Universitat Munich in Germany. The positive response is likely due to a combination of the placebo effect and a physiological reaction to repeated pricks with needles, he added.
Researchers divided 302 migraine sufferers into three groups -- those who received traditional acupuncture, those who received sham acupuncture (in which needles were placed in different areas than those used in traditional Chinese acupuncture) and those who received no treatment but were told they were on a waiting list. Eighty-eight percent of the participants were women, because women are nearly three times more likely to experience migraines than men.
After 12 acupuncture sessions administered over eight weeks, 51% and 53% of those in the traditional and sham acupuncture groups said their migraine frequency had been cut in half, compared with 15% in the waiting list group. Linde says the effects are similar to response rates for popular migraine drugs such as beta blockers and calcium antagonists.
The study was part of a large-scale German project to determine whether insurance companies there should reimburse patients for acupuncture therapies. Researchers are also running clinical trials of acupuncture for osteoarthritis and lower back pain. The study was published in the May 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn.