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Could acupuncture be used in A&E?

WebMD UK Health News Brief
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

19th June 2017 – Some people seeking help at hospital accident and emergency departments could be offered acupuncture as an alternative to pain-relieving medication, an Australian study has found.

Pain is common among patients attending A&E.

Although acupuncture is popular for pain management among practitioners in some clinics, little research has been done into whether it could be a viable hospital treatment.

Some Australian accident and emergency departments already offer acupuncture when trained staff are on hand.

Acupuncture or pain relieving drugs?

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, involved 528 people, with an average age of 41, who sought emergency care at 4 hospitals in and around Melbourne for acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains.

All patients rated their pain as at least 4 on a 10-point scale. They were randomly allocated to receive just acupuncture, acupuncture with pain-relieving medication or only pain relieving drugs in addition to standard care for the condition.

One hour after treatment, less than 40% people across all three groups felt any significant pain reduction – defined as a drop of 2 or more pain points – while more than 80% still rated their pain as 4 or more.

However, 48 hours later, the vast majority described their pain-relief treatment as acceptable, with 61% who had received just acupuncture saying they would probably opt for the same treatment again. This compared with 57% of those who received acupuncture plus drugs and 52% of those in the drugs-only group.

'A viable alternative'

The researchers, from RMIT University in Melbourne, say they have been able to demonstrate that acupuncture is a viable alternative to traditional drugs-based pain relief and could be particularly beneficial to patients who are unable to take standard pain-relieving drugs because of other medical conditions.

However, they say they have also established that pain management remains a critical issue, with
neither treatment providing adequate, immediate pain relief.

Dr Michael Ben-Meir, director of the emergency department at Cabrini Hospital, which was involved in the research, practises acupuncture. He co-authored the research and says it is reasonable to conclude that acupuncture is a mild-to-moderate pain reliever, equivalent to existing pain relieving drugs.

"If and how acupuncture is incorporated into standard emergency care is a complex challenge yet to be tackled," he says. "I envisage most ED [emergency department] physicians could quickly and easily develop adequate skills to allow them to provide this treatment to suitable and consenting patients."

Reviewed on June 19, 2017

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