Triangle Acupuncture Clinic was recently invited to Rex hospital to give a talk about treating chronic pain with acupuncture. The talk was titled, “Non-Pharmacological Interventions in Pain Management,” and our audience was the Pain Resource Nurse Team. We had a fantastic discussion about the overuse of painkillers in our state and the frustration on behalf of doctors to find another solution for these patients.
As we grieve the beloved musician Prince, who passed away recently due to an overdose of prescription pain medicine, there are many people here in North Carolina wishing for a different way to control their pain other than using opiods.
Some of the research we presented described successful implementation of acupuncture in Emergency Rooms across Australia. The study gave patients who entered the ER with sports injuries acupuncture treatment instead of pain medicines and then observed them. The ER director admitted his skepticism but was pleasantly surprised that the patients in the acupuncture group had an equivalent result when compared to standard care, which was strong oral analgesia. The study cited that “acupuncture is just as good as drugs in relieving lower-back pain and that from sprained ankles and migraines.”
Another study known as the German Acupuncture Trials for Chronic Low Back Pain looked at 1162 patients with a history of chronic low back pain. The acupuncture group received acupuncture twice a week for 5 weeks and the control group had conventional therapy, which was a combination of drugs, physical therapy and exercise. The conclusion was that, “low back pain improved after acupuncture treatment for at least 6 months. The effectiveness of acupuncture was almost twice that of conventional therapy.” So how does acupuncture do this? We know that acupuncture is unique because it can decrease pain levels while stimulating the body’s healing responses. Acupuncture raises endorphin levels and diminishes the nervous system’s pain response. Acupuncture also decreases inflammation and swelling while relaxing muscle spasms.
One of the main obstacles to utilizing acupuncture is the up front cost of acupuncture to the patient. Acupuncture isn’t a covered service by many insurance companies in North Carolina the way it is elsewhere. When a doctor prescribes Oxycontin, a patient with standard insurance can fill that prescription often for under $20. The problem is that the pain medicine is masking the pain, but it is not helping to heal the condition. This is why over months and years of time it is much more cost effective to do a therapy like acupuncture in order to heal the injury instead of relying only on drugs for pain management.
The Pain Resource Team at Rex that we talked with described the different departments of the hospital that struggle with over-prescribing of strong pain medicines. From oncology to surgery to the migraine clinic, each department needs options other than drugs to treat their patient’s pain effectively. It is a frustration shared by the nurses, doctors and patients themselves. What would it look like to have an acupuncture department within the hospital that could serve the needs of these patients? When the research is so positive, why is this not already the case? At Triangle Acupuncture Clinic we promise to keep looking for ways to innovate and integrate our practice within the current western medical systems so that people suffering from chronic pain have more access to acupuncture.