Acupuncture has its board of critics and advocates, each side adamant about their views. However, a new study has given acupuncture advocates an edge. The Australian study, the largest of its kind in the world, has proven that using acupuncture in the emergency department can relieve acute pain.

The researchers from RMIT University in Australia conducted a trial in the emergency departments of four hospitals involving about 1964 patients with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains.

Due to the emergency environment, timing and ethical considerations, authors did not conduct placebo trials.

But they found that acupuncture may be a safe and effective alternative to painkillers in providing long-term relief for patients with severe pain – possibly addressing the opioid epidemic.

The study also built upon their previous research to show the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat chronic long-term pain.

Acupuncture proven to be viable alternative to painkillers

The study split patients into three groups ̶ acupuncture only, acupuncture with pharmacotherapy or pharmacotherapy only.

It was noted that one hour after treatment, less than 40% of patients across all three groups felt significant pain reduction – but, more than 80% continued to have a pain rating of at least four. However, 48 hours later, the vast majority found their treatment acceptable, with 82.8% of acupuncture-only patients saying they would probably or definitely undergo treatment, compared with 80.8% in the combined group, and 78.2% 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 Marc Cohen, professor at RMIT University.

The team is suggesting that acupuncture is a viable option for patients who come to the emergency department for pain relief, especially those who cannot or choose not to have analgesic drugs.

Many factors to consider before implementation

However, many ethical, policy and regulatory issues need to be considered – such as the qualifications of medical and non-medical acupuncturists and employing traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to deliver acupuncture in a western medical setting.

The type of practitioners to deliver acupuncture in hospitals need to be considered, as well as the type of training they need to work in the emergency department and whether there is only a set of limited conditions they should treat.

Acupuncture is commonly used in Malaysia and Singapore in community settings for treating pain, but it is rarely used in hospital emergency departments, researchers said.

The researchers hope that the study will encourage further research to address the issues, leading to the development of safe and effective protocols for acute pain relief that may involved the combination of both modern and ancient forms of medicine to achieve rapid and effective analgesia for all emergency department patients. MIMS

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