Acupuncture Can Help TBI Headaches

JUNE 30, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
neurology, pain management, migraine, headache, traumatic brain injury, TBI, acupuncture, military medicinePeople with traumatic brain injury (TBI) often times suffer from serious headaches. But if the patient wants to take potentially addictive opioids off the table, what’s another option?

Acupuncture originates from China and aims to alleviate pain by pricking the skin with needles. The efficacy of this method has been disputed as research has shown varying outcomes. Wayne Jonas, MD, from the Samueli Institute in Virginia, and colleagues from other institutions worked together to uncover if acupuncture is an effective strategy to relieve headaches from TBI.

Published in Medical Acupuncture, the researchers analyzed previously deployed Service members at three military facilities in Washington, DC. The participants had mild-to-moderate TBI headaches and ranged from 18 to 69 years old. They were split to either receive usual care alone or with the addition of auricular acupuncture (AA) or traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA). For those who received AA and TCA, the mean Headache Impact Test scores decreased but slightly increased for the patients who just had usual care (-6.4 points, -2.9 points, and +0.6 points, respectively). In addition, there was a greater decrease in Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) scores with AA and TCA compared to just usual care.

“Chronic concussion headaches are a clinical challenge. Acupuncture appears promising to avoid the opioid gateway for these patients,” Richard C. Niemtzow, MD, PhD, MPH, editor-in-chief of the journal and director of the United States Air Force Acupuncture and Integrate Medicine Center at Joint Base Andrews, said in a statement.

There were no significant changes in secondary outcomes measured with the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Post-Traumatic Stress Checklist, Symptom checklist-90-R, Medical Outcome Study Quality of Life, Beck Depression Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics.

Even so, the team concluded that AA and TCA improved headache-related quality of life in the Service members more than usual care alone.

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