Tension headaches can make life miserable. Usually, these headaches affect both sides of the scalp and the pain can be vice-like or tightening in quality. In general, tension headaches do not worsen with physical activity. What causes tension headaches is not known but are most likely linked to stress, anxiety, depression and poor posture.
Tension headaches account for nearly 3% of all emergency room visits. They occur in nearly 30-60% of the population at some point. Tension headaches start in the teenage years and are more common in women than men.
What are complications of a tension headache?
Because of the recurrent nature of tension headaches, the following complications can occur:
1. Excessive reliance on nonprescription drugs
2. Addiction or dependence to opiates
3. Bleeding as a result of peptic ulcers from excessive use of NSAIDs
4. Slight increase in seizures compared to the general population
How are tension headaches managed?
Tension headaches are managed with many therapies that include ultrasound, cold packs. Electrical stimulation, posture improvement, nerve blocks, trigger point injections and relaxation techniques. Most tension headaches respond to over the counter pain-killers. Recently many people have started to advocate acupuncture for tension headaches.
Some studies published by people who perform acupuncture suggest that acupuncture is effective for tension headaches. They mention that the pain is reduced and the number of days that you have pain is also lessened. But none of these are randomized studies and no long-term data are available.
If you have a tension headache, are you going to look for an acupuncturist in the middle of the night? What if you have a tension headache on a Sunday, do acupuncturists work on weekends and do they charge extra? How many sessions are needed? Remember with acupuncture nothing is ever resolved with one treatment and you have to undergo anywhere from 10-30 sessions to see pain relief. Is there any guarantee that acupuncture will work because anecdotal reports indicate that most people find no pain relief. Finally, you need to know the cost of acupuncture, which is not minuscule. Each session can cost anywhere from $75-$140 and so if you are booked for 20 sessions- that is enough for a down payment on a car.
The Final Point
So while acupuncture may sound exotic and glamorous, it is not a realistic or practical treatment- in other words, It is a complete waste of money.
At the moment there is very little good evidence to support acupuncture for relief of tension headaches. If you have money to waste, go save a dog from a shelter. If you do not have money, do not worry, you are not losing on anything important. Finally, remember tension headaches are painful but they are not life-threatening. They are intermittent and do not interfere with life in general. The money you spend on one session of acupuncture can be spent on 5 bottles of over the counter ibuprofen which works well in most people with acupuncture. The number of pills in 5 bottles should last you 6-12 months.
Finally remember, every Tom, Dick and Harry is into acupuncture. The profession is unregulated and there is zero quality control. It is ‘dubious’ treatment which is still looking for something to cure and tension headache is definitely not included in its therapeutic regimen.