Variability in the diagnosis and point selection for persons with frequent headache by traditional Chinese medicine acupuncturists

J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Nov;12(9):863-72. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.863.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to compare Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pattern diagnosis and acupuncture point selection for persons with frequent headache, as ascribed by three highly trained, licensed acupuncturists.

Methods: Thirty-seven (37) study participants with frequent headaches were independently evaluated by three licensed acupuncturists trained in TCM. The acupuncturists identified the meridians and type of dysfunction they believed were contributing to study participants' symptoms. Study acupuncturists also ascribed one or more TCM diagnoses to each participant and selected eight acupuncture points for needling.

Results: Some variation in TCM pattern diagnosis and point selection was observed for all subjects. Liver Yang and Qi dysfunction were diagnosed in more than two thirds of subjects. Acupuncture points Liver 3, Large Intestine 4, and Governing Vessel (DU) 20 were the most commonly selected points for treatment.

Conclusions: Headache is a heterogeneous condition represented by a wide variety of TCM diagnoses. There is variability among acupuncturists in the diagnosis of TCM patterns and the selection of acupuncture points for needling. These data suggest, however, that most persons with frequent headache appear to have liver Yang and Qi disharmonies for which needling of Liver 3, Large Intestine 4, and/or Governing Vessel 20 may be appropriate. Further research is needed to determine the extent to which variability in the diagnosis or acupuncture point selection among acupuncturists affects clinical outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points
  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Acupuncture Therapy / standards
  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Headache / diagnosis*
  • Headache / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Licensure, Medical
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires