Acupuncture as effective as pharmacotherapy in emergency department patients

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Experts warn, while acupuncture may be an effective alternative to pharmacological options, neither strategy actually provides optimal analgesia.

The world’s largest randomised controlled trial of acupuncture in emergency departments (EDs) has found that the alternative treatment is safe, acceptable and has an analgesic effect comparable with that of pharmacotherapy.

Of 2,000 patients presenting to EDs in Australia between January 2010 and December 2011, 177 were randomised to receive acupuncture alone, 178 to acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy, and 173 to pharmacotherapy alone.

While the authors said acupuncture was equivalent and non-inferior to pharmacotherapy in providing analgesia for patients with back pain and ankle sprain, they cautioned that pain was not actually managed optimally by either acupuncture or pharmacotherapy, nor by their combination.

“Our study has shown acupuncture is a viable alternative, and would be especially beneficial for patients who are unable to take standard pain-relieving drugs because of other medical conditions,” said lead investigator, Professor Marc Cohen. “But it’s clear we need more research overall to develop better medical approaches to pain management, as the study also showed patients initially remained in some pain, no matter what treatment they received.”

The findings are published in the Medical Journal of Australia .

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