Acupuncture effectively relieves headaches, according to a controlled, randomized trial published online, July 29, in the British Medical Journal (2005; 10.1136/bmj.38512.405440.8F). The study’s aim was to determine whether acupuncture could ease headaches and should qualify for routine reimbursement by health insurance companies in Germany.

Researchers tested three options: traditional acupuncture; minimal acupuncture, in which a few needles were placed on meaningless points; and no treatment. While the traditional acupuncture group experienced the most improvement, participants who received the minimal acupuncture also enjoyed some relief. Investigators are not sure why. One suggestion is that acupuncture even at inaccurate points still alters circulation and stimulates release of natural pain relievers; another possibility is that acupuncture has a high placebo effect. Additional studies are needed to find out more.