Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

Study protocol for a pragmatic randomised controlled trial in general practice investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture against migraine

Jorge Vas1*, Ángel Rebollo2, Emilio Perea-Milla3, Camila Méndez4, Carlos Ramos Font2, Manuel Gómez-Río2, Manuel Martín-Ávila5, Justo Carbrera-Iboleón6, M Dolores Caballero7, M Ángeles Olmos8, Inmaculada Aguilar1, Vicente Faus9 and Francisco Martos10

Author Affiliations

1 Pain Treatment Unit, Primary Care Center, Dos Hermanas, Spain

2 Service of Nuclear Medicine, Virgen de las Nieves Hospital, Granada, Spain

3 Support Research Unit (Network and Cooperative Research Centers of Epidemiology. CIBERESP) Costa del Sol Hospital, Marbella, Spain

4 Andalusian Public Health System, Sevilla, Spain

5 Armilla Primary Care Center, Granada, Spain

6 Valle de Lecrin Primary Care Center, Granada, Spain

7 Pain Clinic, Virgen de las Nieves Hospital, Granada, Spain

8 Ugijar Primary Care Center, Granada, Spain

9 Service of Pharmacology, Costa del Sol Hospital, Marbella, Spain

10 Department of Pharmacology, Malaga University, Spain

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-12

Published: 14 April 2008



Migraine is a chronic neurologic disease that can severely affect the patient's quality of life. Although in recent years many randomised studies have been carried out to investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for migraine, it remains a controversial issue. Our aim is to determine whether acupuncture, applied under real conditions of clinical practice in the area of primary healthcare, is more effective than conventional treatment.


The design consists of a pragmatic multi-centre, three-armed randomised controlled trial, complemented with an economic evaluation of the results achieved, comparing the effectiveness of verum acupuncture with sham acupuncture, and with a control group receiving normal care only.

Patients eligible for inclusion will be those presenting in general practice with migraine and for whom their General Practitioner (GP) is considering referral for acupuncture. Sampling will be by consecutive selection, and by randomised allocation to the three branches of the study, in a centralised way following a 1:1:1 distribution (verum acupuncture; sham acupuncture; conventional treatment). Secondly, one patient in three will be randomly selected from each of the acupuncture (verum or sham) groups for a brain perfusion study (by single photon emission tomography). The treatment with verum acupuncture will consist of 8 treatment sessions, once a week, at points selected individually by the acupuncturist. The sham acupuncture group will receive 8 sessions, one per week, with treatment being applied at non-acupuncture points in the dorsal and lumbar regions, using the minimal puncture technique. The control group will be given conventional treatment, as will the other two groups.


This trial will contribute to available evidence on acupuncture for the treatment of migraine. The primary endpoint is the difference in the number of days with migraine among the three groups, between the baseline period (the 4 weeks prior to the start of treatment) and the period from weeks 9 to 12. As a secondary aspect, we shall record the index of laterality and the percentage of change in the mean count per pixel in each region of interest measured by the brain perfusion tomography, performed on a subsample of the patients within the real and sham acupuncture groups.

Trial registration

Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN98703707.