HealthDay News — Acupuncture is a safe and effective alternative to pain medications for some emergency department patients, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.1

The study — billed as the world’s largest randomized, controlled trial of acupuncture in the emergency department — included 528 patients. The study participants were seen at 4 Australian emergency departments for acute low back pain, migraines, or ankle sprains. Patients who said their level of pain was at least 4 on a 10-point scale received 1 of 3 treatments: acupuncture alone; acupuncture with pharmacotherapy; or pharmacotherapy alone.

One hour after treatment, 36.9% of all patients had significant pain reduction, meaning at least a 2-point decline on the 10-point scale. More than 80% still had a pain rating of at least 4, the researchers found. But 2 days later, most patients were satisfied. Overall, 82.8% of acupuncture-only patients said they would probably or definitely repeat their treatment, compared with 80.8% in the combined group and 78.2% in the pharmacotherapy-alone group.

“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,” lead investigator Marc Cohen, MBBS, PhD, a professor in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said in a university news release.

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  1. Cohen MM, Smit DV, Andrianopoulos N, et al. Acupuncture for analgesia in the emergency department: a multicentre, randomised, equivalence and non-inferiority trial. Med J Aust. 2017; 206 (11): 494-499.