Study shows acupuncture can be ‘as effective’ as pain medicine

19 Jun 2017

Image: Leonardo da/Shutterstock

Research in Australia has linked acupuncture with suitable pain relief, with patients marginally preferring it to standard treatments.

Acupuncture’s efficacy is often brought into question, with investigations into non-pharma treatments generally met with a highly sceptical audience.

This is why studies on what ailments are best suited to pinning needles into our bodies are much appreciated, and, in terms of general acceptance of alternative treatments, an absolute must.

On that note, results of the world’s largest randomised controlled trial of the use of acupuncture in emergency departments have been released.

Taking hundreds of patients as subjects across four Melbourne hospitals, researchers at RMIT University found that acupuncture was a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs for some patients.

Tested against, and with, standard pharmacotherapy options, the study showed that patients were marginally more willing to revisit acupuncture treatments, in comparison to pharma treatments or a mixture of both.

However, the trial showed that pain management remains a critical issue, with neither treatment providing adequate, immediate relief.

Prof Marc Cohen, who led the trial, said that pain was found to be the most common reason people go to an emergency department, but it was often inadequately managed as an ailment.

Citing the rarity that hospital emergency departments use acupuncture for pain relief, Cohen said that nurses and doctors “need a variety” of options in this regard, especially given the concerns around opioids such as morphine, which carry the risk of addiction when used on a long-term basis.

“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.

“But 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.”

582 patients were studied, identifying their acute lower-back pain, migraine or ankle sprain pain, and at least four out of 10 were trialled.

One hour after treatment, less than 40pc of patients across all three groups felt any significant pain reduction, while more than 80pc continued to have a pain rating of at least four.

But, 48 hours later, the vast majority found their treatment acceptable, with 82.8pc of acupuncture-only patients saying they would probably or definitely repeat their treatment, compared with 80.8pc in the combined group and 78.2pc in the pharmacotherapy-only group.

“We need to determine the conditions that are most responsive to acupuncture, the feasibility of including the treatment in emergency settings, and the training needed for doctors or allied health personnel,” said Cohen.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic