Acupuncture has been a traditional Eastern method of pain relief for untold centuries, but it has found widespread acceptance as a legitimate treatment in western countries in recent decades. Now acupuncture may find a viable medical role in a place no one ever expected – hospital emergency rooms.
Most people arrive in emergency rooms with physical trauma from accidents or a sudden onset of an illness. Patching people up and handling pain is the realm of surgical procedures and powerful pain-killing drugs that work fast, such as morphine or hydrocodone. But a new study in Australia has shown that acupuncture might be a viable alternative.
In the study, 500 emergency room patients were randomly selected to receive either standard pain medication, acupuncture combined with standard medicine or acupuncture alone. Only three types of conditions were treated: migraine headaches, back pain and ankle sprains.
The patients were then monitored for pain levels hour-by-hour and over a 24- to 48-hour duration. The results showed that acupuncture was as good at relieving pain as administering powerful opioids for back pain and ankle sprains, but had little or no effect on migraine headaches.
Researchers are encouraged by the results for a number of reasons. For one thing, opium-derived drugs, especially morphine, are highly addictive. They also wear off quickly. That means the patient needs more once pain returns. With acupuncture, pain relief is more stable, and even if pain does return, there is no need to take a drug with negative, addictive side-effects.
Even so, acupuncture for emergency room treatments poses some problems – such as the need to have a qualified acupuncturist on hand in the ER to administer the treatment. Few mainstream doctors in western clinical settings have acupuncture training. Staffing emergency rooms with a certified acupuncturist would be expensive and poses a considerable logistical challenge.
Even so, in a world where many nations are dealing with an opioid addiction crisis, turning to drug-free alternatives that are effective holds promising potential.