Sunday, February 25, 2018

Acupuncture More Effective than Usual Care for Headaches due to Traumatic Brain Injury


A recent study by Samueli Institute (SI) provides evidence that acupuncture should be a standard form of treatment for chronic headaches due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“Health care systems need to open up to the idea that the best care is a combination of conventional medicine and complementary treatments, like acupuncture,” said Samueli Institute President Wayne Jonas, MD, on the publication of the study.

The researchers tested whether two types of acupuncture improved the headaches of service members who had a TBI and compared it to those who had usual care without acupuncture. The two types of acupuncture tested were Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (TCA) and Auricular Acupuncture (AA). The study was published in the June 2016 issue of the journal Medical Acupuncture and showed promising results for those suffering from TBI-related headaches.

The Study

The study, a randomized, controlled, three-armed trial, was conducted at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. The participants were, previously deployed service members with chronic or recurrent TBI-related headaches and were assigned to one of three groups: 1) usual care only (UC); 2) TCA; or, 3) AA. During the study, ten sessions of acupuncture were administered over six weeks to participants in each of the acupuncture groups. Follow-up assessments were conducted at the end of the study (week six) and at a follow-up time point (week 12).

The Results

Both of the acupuncture groups experienced improvements in headache-related quality life when compared to the usual care group. Researchers used the Headache Impact Test (HIT) to evaluate improvement, a measure that includes both headache pain and its impact on overall quality of life.

Interestingly, the auricular acupuncture group reported better improvements in headache-related quality of life (-10.2%) compared to the traditional acupuncture (-4.6%), while the usual care group’s pain increased by 0.8%. Read the article

This is good news for patients getting acupuncture treatments and especially promising for service members because auricular acupuncture is now being offered in military treatment facilities (MTFs).

The authors conclude that “AA is a more feasible intervention approach to integrate into MTF settings for TBI-related headache at this time. This is because of AA’s ease of training, no need for formal acupuncture knowledge to deliver, shorter time of administration, and flexibility for use in a variety of settings.”

What’s Next for Acupuncture?

The promising findings of Samueli Institute’s study help provide additional evidence that supports the military and VA’s inclusion of acupuncture as a viable option for non-pharmacological pain treatment. Recently, the U.S. military completed a two-year acupuncture training program described in the NATO special issue to Medical Acupuncture. Called ATACS or Acupuncture Training Across Clinical Settings, the program trained non-acupuncturist clinical providers in the auricular acupuncture technique, which is also called BFA or battlefield acupuncture.

“ATACS’ mission is to develop, pilot, evaluate, and implement a uniform tiered acupuncture education and training program for Military Health System (MHS) and Veteran Health Administration (VHA) providers in order to provide access to the auricular Battlefield Acupuncture technique across MHS and VHA treatment facilities.” – DVCIPM Website

More Research on Acupuncture for Trauma and Stress

Samueli Institute has been researching acupuncture for more than a decade because it appears to be safe, effective and non-stigmatizing for the full spectrum of the traumatic spectrum. Samueli Institute research has demonstrated that Acupuncture, is effective for post-traumatic stress, TBI, and pain. A systematic review completed using Samueli Institute’s REAL© methodology showed acupuncture to be effective for treating other trauma related symptoms including anxiety, sleep issues, fatigue and depression.

Thus, acupuncture appears to help many of the problems in the Trauma Spectrum Response (TSR). TSR refers to the complex interaction between pain, psychological distress and physical function that occurs after major stress and trauma. Acupuncture induces a whole person healing response to stress and injury. Read more about Samueli Institute’s research in this area.

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About Wayne B. Jonas, MD, President and CEO of Samueli Institute