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Category Archives: Pain
Pain is our body’s alarm signal, so its cause should always be investigated. It can vary in nature from the dull ache of an arthritic hip, to the almost intolerable electric shocks of trigeminal neuralgia. Tolerance varies between individuals, but is lower if we are tired, stressed or without other distractions. Some forms are responsive to simple painkillers, whilst others demand stronger, prescription-only drugs, the side-effects of which can be troublesome.
Whatever the pain, acupuncture is a gentle and safe treatment approach. It may also help with any consequences of your pain such as disturbed sleep, depression or loss of appetite.
Below you will find a wide range of research into acupuncture for pain. The studies cover chronic pain from a variety of causes, plus pain relief in hospital A&E, ICU and post-operative settings. There is also trigeminal neuralgia, phantom limb pain, studies with military veterans, and a look at how acupuncture could be part of the solution to dependence on opioid drugs. Pain from shingles, multiple sclerosis and cancer are covered, as is dental pain. Note that some specific types of pain eg neck or back pain, come under their own headings elsewhere.
Authors of a large American pilot study have concluded acupuncture is a feasible and beneficial, non-pharmacological option for treating pain in the emergency department. The researchers’ aim was to determine the feasibility of employing an acupuncturist in an urban emergency department, to provide an acute pain management option.
Of 706 patients with acute pain, 379 agreed to try acupuncture in the emergency department of a Milwaukee hospital. Their mean pain scores decreased significantly (from 6.5 to 3.4), as did their levels of stress, anxiety and nausea. The treatment was well received.
One author reported, “We believe this research is very important because America is currently in the throes of a pain management and opioid crisis. What contributed to this crisis was a belief that new technologies, surgical procedures, and the liberal use of opioids would be the answers to controlling human pain. As we now know, these strategies have not proven efficacious in mitigating pain, suffering, and disability to the extent the public was led to believe.”
(ED Acupuncture: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Impact on Pain. American Pain Society Annual Meeting, April 2019.)
Research commissioned by the US State of Vermont shows that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain and offers a wide array of other benefits, for patients on low incomes and treated under the government-funded Medicaid scheme. Previous studies have shown that this population is hampered in its access to non-pharmacological treatments, by lack of health insurance. In a pragmatic randomised trial, Medicaid patients with chronic pain were offered up to 12 acupuncture sessions over a 60 day period. This resulted in 156 patients (111 women & 45 men) receiving an average 8.2 treatments.
– There were significant improvements in pain intensity, pain interference, physical function, fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep and social isolation.
– 57% of patients using non-opioid analgesics reported reductions in use.
– 32% of patients using opioid analgesics reported reductions in use.
– 74% of employed patients reported improved capacity to work.
– 96% of patients would recommend acupuncture to others with chronic pain.
(Acupuncture for Chronic Pain in the Vermont Medicaid Population: A Prospective, Pragmatic Intervention Trial. Global Advances in Health & Medicine, April 2018.)
A systematic review by Australian authors has shown the effectiveness of ear acupuncture delivered for the purpose of pain relief in a hospital emergency department setting. The treatment was helpful when given either on its own, or as an adjunct to other pain relief measures. Six randomised trials and two observational studies, involving a total of 458 patients, were included in the analysis, which suggested that ear acupuncture can provide clinically meaningful analgesia for acute pain conditions in the emergency department. The treatment was also assessed to have other potential benefits, such as low risk and cost, reasonable application time, improved patient satisfaction, and non-interference with other necessary procedures.
The authors conclude that while study numbers were limited, ear acupuncture significantly reduces pain scores and has potential benefits for use in the emergency department. Further studies will define acupuncture’s role and if it reduces use of analgesic medications.
(Does Ear Acupuncture Have a Role for Pain Relief in the Emergency Setting? A Systematic Review & Meta-Analysis. Medical Acupuncture, October 2017.)
Researchers in the Medical School of the University of Sao Paulo, looking at the use of acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia, have found that it can reduce levels of pain and medication use. In the longitudinal case-control study, they compared 30 healthy subjects with 60 patients diagnosed with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia. The latter group were randomly assigned to receive either true acupuncture, sham acupuncture or treatment with the drug carbamazepine. The true acupuncture group received ten weekly sessions. The sham group received the same, except that they were only needled superficially at all acupuncture points.
Mean pain intensity decreased only in the true acupuncture group, while patients in the sham group required an increase in medication. Both acupuncture groups exhibited a reduction in secondary myofascial pain and mandibular limitation, but only the true acupuncture group maintained these improvements at six month follow-up. The authors conclude that true acupuncture benefits both the primary and secondary causes of idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia pain.
(Acupuncture treatment for idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia: A longitudinal case-control double blinded study. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, November 2017.)