It’s always a problem raising enough funds to carry out good research into interventions like acupuncture. The main problem being that acupuncture treatment is inexpensive to carry out, and doesn’t make much money for big companies that usually fund that type of research.
But the National Health and Medical Research Council recently funded just such a study involving 528 patients with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains who presented at the emergency departments in four Australian hospitals.
Really excitingly, this is the world’s largest randomised controlled trial into acupuncture for pain relief in Accident and Emergency. And even more excitingly the study has found that acupuncture is as effective as pain medicine in providing long-term relief for patients who come to hospital emergency departments in considerable pain.
This is so important. Acupuncture carries virtually no side effects and it isn’t habit forming. It really is inexpensive and easy to deliver and, in my experience of over 20 years of giving acupuncture treatment, people love having it. They really do! Even the most anxious or sceptical people end up calm and relaxed and leave with a sense of well being.
What’s not to like!
Pain is such a complicated package, and the longer it goes on, the more complicated it can become. I do get to see people sometimes who have only just hurt themselves; pulled a muscle in their back or neck or shoulder; but mostly I see people where the problem started weeks or even years previously. By that time things have moved on, and the original problem now has some tricky add-ons bolted to it. Long term use of pain medication can definitely be one of these, but there are lots of others. Anticipation of pain which has been around for a while can cause anxiety, a loss of confidence in our bodies ability to sort things out for us, and changes in our ways of moving. It can overload other parts of our bodies which are being overused to help out, stop us sleeping and start problems with our immune responses.
The use of acupuncture to help with these types of complicated or chronic pain is well documented.
What I love about this new piece of research is that it shows acupuncture to be just as good as usual hospital emergency treatment for pain relief. After an hour of either acupuncture treatment or drugs, the pain relief is the same.
It would be great to see more research funded into non drug related approaches to health care. This is a big and really exciting move in the right direction!