Is Acupuncture an Effective Treatment for Chronic Pain?
The Answer is YES.
Not only has it been practiced for THOUSANDS of years, but current research supports this.
There was a data meta-analysis, which is a great source to use for research because it compiles several studies. This meta-analysis used 29 of 31 eligible randomized control trials. There was a total of 17, 922 patients analyzed.
This study concluded that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. There was also a significant difference (P < .001 for all comparisons)between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo.
One of the most common types of chronic pain is chronic low back pain.
Chronic low back pain is extremely prevalent in the united states. With the prevalence of low back pain comes the socio-economic burden of maintenance, comorbidities, and treatment. Determining the epidemiology of chronic low back pain may give some solutions to help with prevention and awareness. According to the US Burden of Disease Collaborators, low back pain has consistently accounted for the most significant number of years lived in disability in the US (Shmagel, Foley, & Ibrahim, 2016). The economic burden of low back pain is significant. In 2005 the total cost for spinal issues was 102 billion dollars. Low back pain is also driving up costs with frequent doctor and hospital visits. When these visits are occurring, no solution is coming from them, pain medication is being prescribed, which is not getting to the root problem. Part of getting to the root problem is looking into the socioeconomics of chronic low back pain. Studies do support that there are socio-economic, behavioral factors attributed to chronic low back pain (Shmagel, Foley, & Ibrahim, 2016). When a patient has low back pain there are usually other issues the patient is dealing with. As doctors, it is always important to look at the patient as a whole and not just at the symptoms. A patient with chronic pain may also be dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, sleep difficulties, financial issues, and obesity. A study conducted on chronic pain showed a development in major depression within two years in 16.4% of patients with chronic pain(Dahan, Velzen, & Niesters, 2014).
Eastern Medical View
As an acupuncturist, we usually do not see disease in a narrow view; we look at many different factors. When a patient comes in with back pain, we look at all aspects of the body-emotional and physical. Acupuncture is so valuable because there are many things associated with chronic pain. A patient may have pain but also depression. As alternative practitioners, we would treat both. This goes to show that no chronic condition comes alone, many factors play into it, and getting the whole picture is so important when it comes to treating the issue. Also, it shows there is a need for more interventions because those with chronic low back pain were more likely to visit the doctors and spend a night in the hospital. Traditional Chinese Medicine can help treat the patient as a whole and hopefully would be able to decrease the hospital and doctor visits.
Western Medical View
Many times, doctors refer to pain management for chronic pain, which is then managed with medication or injections. It may be necessary for the doctor to also refer to a therapist if a patient is experiencing depression. It is essential for all doctors to understand that those suffering from chronic pain are going through a lot, and the patient may need more than just pain management. Educating patients that are inactive and overweight about the long-term effects on the health and the implications that come with chronic low back pain. Back pain can be prevented if the correct steps are taken for prevention and if there is awareness.
Together Eastern and Western doctors can work together to help patients with chronic pain
Dr. Levy, DACM,AP, Dipl. OM
Dahan, A., Velzen, M. V., & Niesters, M. (2014). Comorbidities and the Complexities of Chronic Pain. Anesthesiology, 121(4), 675–677. doi: 10.1097/aln.0000000000000402
Vickers, A. J., Cronin, A. M., Maschino, A. C., Lewith, G., Macpherson, H., Foster, N. E., … Collaboration, F. T. A. T. (2012). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(19), 1444. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3654
Shmagel, A., Foley, R., & Ibrahim, H. (2016). Epidemiology of Chronic Low Back Pain in US Adults: Data From the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arthritis Care & Research, 68(11), 1688–1694. doi: 10.1002/acr.22890