Acupuncture could be a safe alternative to pain-relieving drugs for some patients arriving at accident and emergency, a study has found.
Pain is one of the most common reasons people come to emergency units.
But there has been little study of whether acupuncture could be a useful treatment for patients arriving at A&E.
Now the trial – one of the largest assessments of acupuncture – found that for some patients acupuncture is effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs for some patients.
One of the largest assessments of acupuncture found that it could be an effective alternative to pain-relieving
The patients were suffering from migraine, lower back pain and ankle pain.
However, the trial, conducted in the emergency departments of four Melbourne hospitals, showed pain management remains a critical issue, with neither treatment providing adequate immediate relief.
Lead investigator Professor Marc Cohen, from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [RMIT], said pain was the most common reason people came to emergency, but 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.
‘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.
Pain is one of the most common reasons people come to emergency units
‘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, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, involved 528 patients with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains who turned up at four hospitals in the country over a two year period.
Patients who identified their level of pain as at least 4 on a 10-point scale randomly received one of three types of treatment: acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus drug treatments or drug treatment alone.
One hour after treatment, less than 40 per cent of patients across all three groups felt any significant pain reduction (2 or more pain points), while more than 80 per cent continued to have a pain rating of at least 4.
Expert said it showed that more research was needed into pain management
But 48 hours later, the vast majority found their treatment acceptable, with 82.8 per cent of acupuncture-only patients saying they would probably or definitely repeat their treatment, compared with 80.8 per cent in the combined group, and 78.2 per cent in the drug treatment only group.
Professor Cohen said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or ‘life force’, flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi (pronounced “chee”).