Acupuncture relieves pain in emergency patients


Acupuncture relieves pain in emergency patients


Acupuncture has been found to be a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving dugs to some patients by the world’s largest randomised controlled trial of the use of acupuncture in emergency departments.

The study, which was led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, found acupuncture to be as effective as pain medication in providing long-term relief for patients who came to the emergency department in considerable pain.

The trial also showed that pain management remains a critical issue in emergency departments, with neither acupuncture or pain medication providing adequate immediate relief.

Lead investigator Professor Marc Cohen, from RMIT's School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, explained that pain was the most common reason people presented to the emergency department, but it was often inadequately managed.

"While acupuncture is widely used by practitioners in community settings for treating pain, it is rarely used in hospital emergency departments," Cohen said.

"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.

"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."

The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, and involved 528 patients with acute low back pain, migraine, or ankle sprains who came to the emergency departments of four hospitals between January 2010 and December 2011.

The patients were all asked to identify their pain level on a 10-point scale. Every patient who scored their pain at least a 4 randomly received one of three types of treatment: acupuncture alone, acupuncture and pharmacotherapy, or pharmacotherapy alone.

One hour after the treatment, under 40% of patients across al three groups felt any significant pain reduction of 2 or more points, while over 80% continued to have a pain rating of at least 4.

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

"Some Australian emergency departments already offer acupuncture when trained staff are available but further studies are needed on ways to improve pain management overall in emergency departments, and the potential role for acupuncture in this," Cohen said.

"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."


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