Acupuncture recommended as a non-pharmacological treatment for pain.

In 2018, a white paper entitled “Evidence-Based Nonpharmacologic Strategies For Comprehensive Pain Care: The Consortium Pain Task Force White Paper” describes the ongoing opioid crisis in America and offers evidence for non-pharmacological pain management.

These approaches include acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathic care, physical therapy, massage therapy, mind and body movement therapies and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Although this paper covers various non-pharmacological treatments for pain, this article will focus on acupuncture.

The effectiveness of acupuncture for treating pain has been well researched and understood. This paper offers additional information that may be under-recognized by the public and other health professionals alike.

Acupuncture can be a stand-alone and in-combination therapy

The standard approach to treating pain is through medicine, procedures, or surgery. The advantage of a therapy such as acupuncture is that it can be a stand-alone treatment or combined with the standard approach.

Acupuncture offers additional benefits besides pain management

The authors state that “An often under-recognized feature of non-pharmacologic therapies is their ability to confer additional benefits: a treatment to reduce pain can also reduce anxiety and depression, nausea and vomiting; facilitate restful sleep; and increase a patient’s sense of well-being and desire to participate in their own recovery.”

The authors further emphasize that acupuncture and other non-pharmacologic therapies “involve patient participation and a commitment to self-care. Increased self-efficacy in managing pain often accompanies (pharmacologic therapies) and correlates with improved mood and predicts improved outcomes in many chronic conditions, including pain.”

A common dosage for acupuncture is weekly treatment for a minimum of 8 weeks

For healthcare professions who are unfamiliar with the dosage of acupuncture, the authors recommend that a referral for acupuncture should be for a minimum of 8 sessions, and “preferably 8-15 weekly sessions of care.”

They also recommend that acupuncture can be given more than once a week in cases of acute or more severe pain.

“In a large meta-analysis of RCTs of acupuncture for chronic pain of the head, neck, shoulder, low back and knee, where benefit persisted significantly (12 months) following a course of treatment, patients received on average 8–15 treatments over 10–12 weeks.”

Call to Action 

The paper concludes with a Call to Action to:

  • “Increase awareness of effective non-pharmacologic treatments for pain”
  • “Train healthcare practitioners and administrators in the evidence base of effective non-pharmacologic practice”
  • “Advocate for policy initiatives that remedy system and reimbursement barriers to evidence-informed comprehensive pain care”
  • “Promote ongoing research and dissemination of the role of effective non-pharmacologic treatments in pain, focused on the short and long term therapeutic and economic impact of comprehensive care practices.”

Study Referenced: Tick, H., Nielsen, A., Pelletier, K. R., Bonakdar, R., Simmons, S., Glick, R., . . . Zador, V. (2018). Evidence-Based Nonpharmacologic Strategies for Comprehensive Pain Care. Explore,14(3), 177-211. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2018.02.001

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