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A pilot study of acupuncture for tension headache, using a novel placebo
  1. AR White1,
  2. C Eddleston2,
  3. R Hardie3,
  4. KL Resch1,
  5. E Ernst1
  1. 1
    Department of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter
  2. 2
    Trainee General Practitioner, Exeter
  3. 3
    Consultant Neurologist, Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital
  1. Department of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter, Postgraduate Medical School, 25 Victoria Park Road, Exeter (UK) EX2 4NT


Tension headache is common, and treatment with acupuncture is frequently recommended, although the evidence of its effectiveness is contradictory. This small, randomised, controlled trial was designed as a pilot to test procedures in preparation for a multi-centre trial investigating the effect of acupuncture as a treatment for tension headache. Ten volunteers suffering from episodic, tension-type headache were recruited by local newspaper articles. Patients were randomised to receive either brief needling to tender areas or selected traditional points (Group A), or pressure from a cocktail stick supported within a guide tube to defined, non-tender and non-acupuncture areas (Group B). The patients' view of the treatment sites was obstructed so that no indication could be gained as to which form of treatment was being given.

Throughout the period of the trial, duration, frequency and intensity of headaches were recorded, from which the mean weekly headache index was calculated. There was no difference between the changes in weekly headache index in the two groups, comparing scores before and after treatment. However, Group A experienced a considerably higher number of headache-free weeks than Group B. The credibility of the two procedures was tested using a standard credibility questionnaire and a “final verdict”. One subject in Group B concluded that she had not received genuine acupuncture, but overall there was no statistical difference between the credibility of treatment in the two groups.

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