Acupuncture as effective as Painkillers for Pain Relief, Study Suggests

Acupuncture, Chinese therapy, acute pain, low back pain, acupuncture and pain, migraine , ankle sprains
Acupuncture, a centuries-old Chinese therapy, can be proved as safe and effective as pain medications for patients with severe pain, suggests a new study out from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

According to the study, getting jabbed with tiny, thin acupuncture needles can work as effectively as popping painkillers in providing long-term relief for some emergency department patients.

Researchers from RMIT University in Australia reached their findings after conducting a large randomised controlled trial in the emergency departments of four hospitals, namely Alfred Hospital, Cabrini Malvern, Epworth Hospital and Northern Hospital, involving about 528 patients who presented at these hospitals with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains.

The study, dubbed as the world’s largest randomized, controlled trial of acupuncture in the emergency department, was conducted between January 2010 and December 2011.

“While acupuncture is widely used by practitioners in community settings for treating pain, it is rarely used in hospital emergency departments,” said lead investigator Marc Cohen, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., a professor in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Participants in the study who said their level of pain was at least 4 on a 10-point scale were randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments – acupuncture alone; acupuncture with pharmacotherapy (treatment using drugs); or pharmacotherapy alone.

One hour after treatment, 36.9 percent of patients across all three groups felt significant pain reduction i.e. 2 or more pain points, while more than 80 percent continued to have a pain rating of at least 4 on the 10-point scale, found the researchers.

But, 48 hours later, most participants found their treatment satisfactory. A whopping 82.8 percent of patients in acupuncture-only treatment group said they would probably or definitely repeat their treatment, compared with 80.8 percent in the combined therapy group, and 78.2 percent patients in the pharmacotherapy-only group.

“Our study has shown acupuncture is a viable alternative and would be especially beneficial for patients who are unable to take standard pain-relieving drugs because of other medical conditions,” said Cohen. “Emergency nurses and doctors need a variety of pain-relieving options when treating patients, given the concerns around opioids such as morphine, which carry the risk of addiction when used long-term.”

He, however, admitted “it’s clear we need more research overall to develop better medical approaches to pain management, as the study also showed patients initially remained in some pain, no matter what treatment they received.”

The study appears in the Medical Journal of Australia.