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Acupuncture Equal to Drugs for Acute Analgesia

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 03 Jul 2017
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Image: Research shows acupuncture is as good as drugs for treating certain pains (Photo courtesy of Alamy).
Image: Research shows acupuncture is as good as drugs for treating certain pains (Photo courtesy of Alamy).
Acupuncture is comparable with pharmacotherapy in the emergency department (ED), but neither provides adequate acute analgesia within the first hour, claims a new study.

Researchers at RMIT (Melbourne, Australia), Monash University (Melbourne, Australia), and other institutions conducted a randomized study to compare acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy, and pharmacotherapy alone for alleviating pain in patients presenting to the ED with acute low back pain, migraine, or an ankle sprain. The primary outcome measure was clinically relevant pain relief at one hour, as measured on a verbal numerical rating scale (VNRS), and statistically relevant pain relief as a reduction in VNRS score greater than two units.

Between January 2010 and December 2011, 270 patients with acute low back pain, 92 with migraine, and 166 with ankle sprain were randomized to treatment with acupuncture (177 patients), acupuncture and pharmacotherapy (178), or pharmacotherapy alone (173). Overall, the three treatments were found to be equivalent, but after one hour, clinically relevant pain relief was achieved in only 16% of patients and statistically relevant relief in 37%. Equivalence in providing analgesia was found for patients with back pain or ankle sprain, but not those with migraine. The study was published on June 19, 2017, in the Medical Journal of Australia.

“Patients in the acupuncture only group were almost twice as likely to receive rescue analgesia,” said lead author Professor Marc Cohen, MD, of RMIT. “This may indicate that acupuncture was ineffective, and patients sought alternative analgesia, or that they were more likely to accept pharmacotherapy because they felt they had missed out on standard care, whereas patients who had already received oral opiates were reluctant to accept parenteral opiates.”

Acupuncture is an alternative medicine methodology originating in ancient China that uses thin, solid needles that are manipulated into specific points on the skin. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians. Scientific research, however, has not found any histological or physiological correlates for qi, meridians, and acupuncture points.

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