A study comparing sham and real acupuncture with standard drug therapy found no significant difference in the impact of treatment on the number of migraine days, according to data published in the
Lancet Neurology (online).
Patients were given ten acupuncture sessions over six weeks or continuous treatment with beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or anti-epileptic drugs.
The most important result is that all three treatments were effective and that improvement in the number of migraine days was near similar in all treatment groups," researchers wrote.
All treatments led to mean reductions of 1.5-2.3 migraine days from four weeks before treatment to 23-26 weeks after treatment. There was also no difference between the treatment groups in secondary outcomes, such as pain intensity and pain-related impairment.
The authors were surprised at sham acupuncture's efficacy, which involved needling at non-acupuncture points, suggesting it might still exert biological effects similar to those achieved by needling at acupuncture points.
Another possible explanation of the mode of action of acupuncture is a powerful placebo effect," they wrote.
Placebo treatment exerts powerful effects on pain modulating brain structures, as shown by PET and functional MRI studies."
The results prompted the authors to suggest the efficacy of treatment, especially one with almost no adverse events or contraindications such as sham acupuncture was more important than knowledge of how it worked.
The decision about whether acupuncture should be used in migraine prevention remains with the physician," they wrote.