UK Acupuncture Clinic

Tension Headache: a Clinical Study of Its Treatment By Acupuncture

The Western medical treatment of tension headache often encounters difficulties with regard to clinical diagnosis, treatment and financial costs. In this preliminary clinical study, 22 patients suffering from tension headache were randomly selected and treated with acupuncture. The results showed that four patients had complete relief from tension headaches and that there was a marked improvement in nine patients and fair improvement in six patients, with a failure to improve in only three patients. This paper also provides an introduction to the pathophysiology of, and therapeutic principles for, tension headaches from the conventional and traditional Chinese medicine points of view.

Sample cases



A patient aged 42 years who suffered from tension headache for eight months with a frequency of 12-20 attacks per month was selected for this study. A typical attack of tension headache was associated with lethargy, weakness, tiredness and lack of concentration. These headaches usually lasted for up to a few hours but sometimes the whole day, and were worsened by any head or body movement. On several occasions he was seen by both his GP and a specialist. Despite the regimen of analgesics and tranquillisers, his attacks had increased steadily.

We saw him in our clinic when he was suffering an attack of severe tension headache that required him to be brought by a relative to the clinic rather than coming on his own.

The patient received four sessions at 24 hour intervals in the first week, each of 30 minutes to 1 hour duration. This was followed by two half-hour sessions per week for 6 consecutive weeks. Two sets of acupuncture points were used in this case. Local points: Yangbai GB-14, Fengchi GB-20 and Jianjing GB-21 stimulated bilaterally using manual stimulation. Distal points: Taichong LIV-3 and Yanglingquan GB-34 stimulated bilaterally with manual technique. The needles were retained for 20-50 minutes and sometimes manipulated once every ten minutes. Following the fifth session of acupuncture treatment the headache and the associated symptoms had disappeared completely.

Case 2

This 39-year old woman had suffered from daily tension headaches for the past 5 months with no other major symptoms. She slept poorly and woke up feeling muzzy, with headache at the back and side of her head. She had at least 2-4 episodes of tension headache daily, of variable intensity, and each lasting for 2-4 hours. Consequently, the tension headaches interfered significantly with her social and working activities. She was treated by her GP with analgesics without success. A few weeks prior to her first visit for acupuncture, the frequency and severity of the headaches had increased steadily (to more than 4-5 attacks daily), even though she was taking powerful analgesics. She came to seek acupuncture treatment as a last resort.

The treatment protocol was an acupuncturesession for four consecutivedays, followed by twice-weekly sessions for four weeks. The following acupuncture points were used. Local points: Tender local points were needled as well as bilateral acupuncture points Shangguan GB-3, Yangbai GB-14, Fengchi GB-20 and Jianjing GB-21. Distal points: Hegu L.I.-4, Taichong LIV-3, Neiting ST-44, Yanglingquan GB-34, Zulinqi GB-41 and Yanggu SI-5.

After her fourth acupuncture session, she stated that she felt “much better in herself” with improvement in her sleeping pattern. After the completion of 15 sessions of treatment, she was experiencing no headaches and the morning muzziness was gone. Follow-up showed a lasting remission.