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Headaches are one of the most frequent reasons for medical treatment, in both general practice and neurology clinics. These occur in up to 80% of the UK adult population, and are more prevalent in women (65% of cases in one survey). Symptoms begin before the age of 10 years in 15% of people with chronic tension headaches but prevalence declines with age.

Tension type headache is the term used for infrequent and frequent episodic, as well as chronic, tension headaches. Tension headaches are characterised by pain that is typically mild or moderate in intensity, bilateral, and pressing or tightening in quality, but does not worsen with physical activity. There may be accompanying photophobia, but no nausea. The headaches are daily or very frequent, and last from minutes to days.

Types of headaches

There are many different types of headache pain. The most common ones in western medicine are:

  • Tension-type headache
  • Cluster headaches
  • Headaches and migraines

Tension-type headache

These are the most common type of headache and vary from mild to moderate pain levels.

Cluster headaches

This type is intense and feels like a burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye, either throbbing or constant. They're called "cluster headaches" because they tend to happen to three times per day.


This condition is accompanied by intense headaches. These headaches are often described as pounding, throbbing pain with visual disturbance and nausea.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) there are around 15 different types of headaches. They can be caused by the environment such as wind or from problems with the internal organs, such as the liver and irregular emotions such as stress.

Acupuncture for headaches

The aim of conventional treatment is to reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of the headache, with minimal adverse effects from treatment. Prescribed and over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are taken to alleviate headaches. Acupuncture is as good as painkillers but without the side effects.

Most people think headaches are caused by not drinking enough water. This is true, but seldom the reason in most cases. In traditional Chinese medicine, headaches can be caused by several factors:

  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Anaemia
  • Menopausal
  • Menstrual cycle (hormonal)

Acupuncture treatment is able to treat all types of headaches by reducing stress, boosting energy levels, aiding anaemia and regulating hormone levels and the nervous system in the body.

Evidence from the most up-to-date and highest quality systematic reviews that examined clinical trials where sham acupuncture was used showed that there are clinically relevant benefits of having traditional acupuncture treatment provided headache relief. Randomised controlled trials have found that the effects of acupuncture are better than painkillers for treating headaches intensity and frequency for long term.


Routine care should be given including lifestyle changes, for example:

  • Eat 3 meals a day
  • Sleep early and for around 8 hours
  • Reduce exposure to stress

Watch my animated video below, which explains how the stimulation of acupuncture points is able to relieve pain and treat headaches.