What Are the Studies on Acupuncture/Acupressure for Headache Relief?

Studies on Acupuncture and Acupressure

You will not find much in the way of acupressure studies and headaches. However, acupuncture treatment, which uses the same points, offers more study material.

You do not need to sift through all the various studies yourself. Use a systematic review to aid you. What is a systematic review? A systematic review gathers the most relevant studies on a treatment and assesses their result. If all the studies agree that a specific treatment helps, then the treatment is likely beneficial. On the other hand, if studies in the review do not agree on treatment outcomes, then the treatment benefit is more uncertain.

Sometimes you may find more than one systematic review on a topic. These systematic reviews may include different studies. Why? Different reviewers may decide that different studies are more reliable than others. At times these systematic reviews may overlap with their choice of studies.

Best Acupuncture Studies

Consider the systematic review of Klaus Linde and fellow researchers. Their most recent review of 12 studies was completed in 2016.  They considered the acupuncture treatment for headaches a success if a person received 50% relief of their headaches. The relief maintained over at least three months. True acupuncture was found to provide relief for people with headaches.

The 2016 study updates the 2009 systematic review with new information. Jena’s study was added to the review. 15,056 headache patients were studied to determine if acupuncture provided headache relief. In brief, the acupuncture treated group went from 8.4 to 4.7 headache days. The non-acupuncture control group went from 8.1 to 7.3 headache days. Treatment relief lasted at least six months.

Of the 12 studies, Endres had the next largest study. 409 headache clients from 122 outpatient clinics were investigated. True acupuncture versus sham acupuncture was compared. True acupuncture-treated patients had more improvement than the sham-treated patients. Again, treatment relief lasted for at least six months.

Do All Studies Support Acupuncture Relief?

No, some studies do not find acupuncture provides any more benefit than conventional treatment. Some attribute the relief from acupuncture to psychological rather than physiological reasons.

Indeed, Linde participated in a previous systematic review with another group of researchers in 2006. This review found that people received headache relief from acupuncture. However, this relief may not have come from the acupuncture itself but other non-specific effects of treatment. Interestingly, Linde subsequently modified his position in favor of acupuncture as more studies came out.

I do not discount the psychological benefit of acupuncture or other treatments. However, in my experience I have seen certain headache acupressure points work better than others in my headache clients. Again, acupuncture points and acupressure points are the same. The difference is that you use needles versus a mechanical pressure to these points.

Are There Risks to Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is not for everyone. Refer to an article in Healthline that discusses acupuncture risk. Unsterile needles could be a risk factor. Single-use needles eliminate that risk.

Remember, if you are pregnant acupuncture may not be for you. For one thing, acupuncture could theoretically stimulate an early delivery of your baby. Therefore, you need to avoid certain acupuncture points, or acupuncture altogether, during pregnancy.

Other people need to look out for bruising. Beyond these issues, the Healthline article refers to a further discussion of potential serious safety issues in a National Institute of Health article.

Risks are much more avoidable if you seek out a qualified acupuncturist. Consult with your medical doctor if you are thinking about acupuncture for yourself.


You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.


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