Can Acupuncture Help Cluster Headaches?

Breeze Academy July 30, 2023
Woman working at desk with hand on head

Cluster headaches are one of the most severe types of headaches a person can experience but sometimes, conventional medication doesn’t work to reduce pain or prevent attacks. Because of this, some people turn to alternative treatments such as Acupuncture, but does it work? In this article, Breeze Academy takes a look at the evidence around Acupuncture and cluster headaches to determine its effectiveness.

So, can Acupuncture help cluster headaches? Experts agree that Acupuncture is effective in preventing cluster headache attacks and reducing associated pain. Some go as far as saying that Acupuncture is just as effective, or more so, than conventional Western treatments. 

Read on to learn more about the relationship between Acupuncture and cluster headaches with Breeze Academy.

Does Acupuncture Work for Cluster Headaches?

Acupuncture is thought to be effective in treating and preventing cluster headaches and migraines. Some claim that it is as effective as traditionally prescribed medications such as carbamazepine, but has fewer risks and side effects.

Some researchers believe the treatment is more effective when contralateral Acupuncture points associated with the trigeminal nerve (CN V) are used. Others disagree, claiming that using Acupuncture points on both sides was effective in interrupting cluster attacks.

Typically, Acupuncture for cluster headaches works by the needles stimulating the nervous system which releases pain relieving endorphins and other beneficial hormones. It also helps to improve blood circulation which more effectively delivers essential oxygen and nutrients. 

Acupuncture for Other Types of Headaches

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that Acupuncture is effective and can reduce various types of headaches. They state that it is an effective alternative to conventional treatments and can be recommended by medical professionals.

They also state that it is effective in preventing headaches, specifically migraines, and that clinicians should provide patients with information about Acupuncture. This is both in relation to preventing and treating migraines.

How Many Acupuncture Sessions are Needed?

There is little guidance around how many sessions are needed for cluster headaches specifically. However, for chronic tension-type headaches, a course of up to 10 sessions over 5-8 weeks is recommended. Likewise, this is recommended for migraines if typically prescribed medication is ineffective. 

Acupuncture Points for Cluster Headaches

Like with how many sessions are needed, there is little guidance into Acupuncture points specific to cluster headaches. However, a study recommended the following Acupuncture points for various types of tension headaches and migraines.

  • Points at the back of the head - BL10, GB20, GB21, GV15
  • Distant points on the arm - LI4, TE5, PC6
  • Distant points on the leg - BL60, GB40, GB41, GB42, LR3, SP6, ST36, ST44

How Acupuncture Compares to Conventional Treatments

In multiple cases, experts have stated that Acupuncture may be as, or more effective than conventional treatments, largely in response to the risks and side effects of medication.

Pharmacology works well to treat pain in many cases, but for some, including those with migraines and cluster headaches, it doesn’t always work. Additionally, the side effects of these medicines can be severe. Long-term effects of pain medications include addiction, internal bleeding, kidney problems, liver problems, and depression, as well as milder side effects such as nausea, drowsiness and excessive sweating. 

Meanwhile, Acupuncture is generally a low-risk treatment with minimal side effects. However, there are a few instances where patients should consult with their Doctor before proceeding with treatment. 

Acupuncture and Cluster Headaches - Risks and Shortcomings

Side effects of Acupuncture tend to be rare and mild when they do occur. Patients may experience the following side effects after treatment on occasion, but when conducted by a qualified practitioner, tend to be minor, short-term, and self-correcting.

  • Pain, bleeding or bruising at the needle point
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

Acupuncture is typically low-risk, but those with the following conditions should take precaution and consult their primary care physician before proceeding. 

  • Pregnant women
  • Those with uncontrollable movements or epilepsy
  • Those with spinal instability
  • Needling on scars, keloid, recent wounds or skin with sensory deficit
  • Those with blood disorders or those taking anticoagulant medication
  • Those with a pacemaker
  • Those that have had a stroke
  • Those with diabetes
  • Those with immuno-suppression
  • Anyone with undiagnosed or unclear medical conditions
  • Those with an abnormal physical structure

Learn more about Acupuncture contraindications in our blog, Is Acupuncture Safe?, where you’ll learn more about absolute and relative contraindications as well as risks and side effects, and how Acupuncture compares to Western medicine.

Final Thoughts

Acupuncture is well known for its ability to reduce pain and headaches are no exception. Various studies and experts state that Acupuncture is an effective, low-risk alternative to conventional cluster headache treatments, particularly in preventing custer attacks (this also applies to migraines). Some experts go as far as saying that Acupuncture is as effective or more so than conventional treatment.

If you’re a healthcare professional interested in offering Acupuncture for individuals suffering with chronic headaches, take a look at our Acupuncture courses online today. 

Our foundation-level Acupuncture courses are available throughout the UK, giving you all the knowledge you need to safely and effectively practise Acupuncture. There are also a number of more advanced CPD Acupuncture courses available to take your skills to the next level.


What are Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are severe, often excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head, often felt around the eye. Such headaches are rare, but can begin quickly and without warning. Symptoms include:

  • Severe pain around the eye, temple or face, often described as sharp, burning or piercing.
  • Feeling of restlessness and agitation during an attack due to intense pain.
  • Red and watering eyes.
  • Drooping or swelling of the eyelid.
  • A smaller pupil in the eye.
  • Sweaty face.
  • Blocked or runny nose.

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