Use of complementary and alternative medicine by patients with chronic tension-type headache: results of a headache clinic survey

Headache. 2006 Apr;46(4):622-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00412.x.


Objectives: This study was undertaken to evaluate the rates, pattern, and presence of predictors of complementary and alternative medicine use in a clinical population of patients with chronic tension-type headache.

Background: The use of complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of headaches is a growing phenomenon about which little is known.

Methods: A total of 110 chronic tension-type headache patients attending a headache clinic participated in a physician-administered structured interview designed to gather information on complementary and alternative medicine use.

Results: Past use of complementary and alternative therapies was reported by 40% of the patients surveyed (22.7% in the previous year). Chronic tension-type headache patients prefer complementary and alternative practitioner-administered physical treatments to self-treatments, the most frequently used being chiropractic (21.9%), acupuncture (17.8%), and massage (17.8%). Only 41.1% of the patients perceived complementary and alternative therapies to be beneficial. The most common source of recommendation of complementary and alternative medicine was a friend or relative (41.1%). Most of the chronic tension-type headache patients used complementary and alternative treatment as a specific intervention for their headache (77.3%). Almost 60% of complementary and alternative medicine users had not informed their medical doctors of their use of complementary and alternative medicine. The most common reasons given for choosing to use a complementary or alternative therapy was the "potential improvement of headache" it offered (45.4%). The patients who had used more complementary and alternative treatments were found to be those recording a higher lifetime number of visits to conventional medical doctors, those with a comorbid psychiatric disorder, those enjoying a higher (household) income, and those who had never tried a preventive pharmacological treatment.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that headache-clinic chronic tension-type headache patients, in their need of and quest for care, seek and explore both conventional and complementary and alternative therapies, even if only 41.1% of them perceived complementary treatments as effective. Physicians should be made aware of this patient-driven change in the medical climate in order to prevent misuse of health care resources and to be better equipped to meet patients' care requirements.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Clinics / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tension-Type Headache / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome