Acupuncture Found To Limit Pain After Surgery In New Research

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Woman Getting Acupuncture

Acupuncture stems from traditional Chinese medicine and is still revered for a number of benefits, from easing TMD to helping balance hormones.

New research presented Monday found yet another potential application for the age-old practice: easing post-op pain. Here's the gist.

The study setup.

For the study, researchers looked at the effects of both traditional and "battlefield" acupuncture on 106 veterans undergoing surgery. (Battlefield acupuncture involves uses needles only in the ear.)

Two groups of veterans had acupuncture done before their surgeries. One group of 42 patients were getting hip replacements and were either given traditional acupuncture beforehand or no acupuncture as the control. The other group of 64 patients were getting a variety of different surgeries and were randomly assigned to get battlefield acupuncture or to be controls.

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What researchers found.

In the first group of patients, the control group took over three times as much morphine milligram equivalent (MME) for pain following surgery than the patients who received acupuncture (56 MME versus 20.4 MME, to be exact). On top of that, those who received the acupuncture also reported much higher satisfaction scores about post-op pain in the day following the surgery, along with less pain and less anxiety.

Battlefield acupuncture appeared to lower the need for opioids in the second group as well. The control group took twice as many opioids in the 24 hours following the surgery. Similar to the first group, the patients who had the battlefield acupuncture also reported lower pain and higher post-op satisfaction than the control group.

Interestingly, 38% of the control group reported nausea and vomiting, compared to only 3% of those who'd had the battlefield acupuncture.

The bottom line.

While more research still needs to be done before acupuncture is widely offered as a preventive pain treatment in hospitals, this early pilot study is promising.

"Six percent of patients given opioids after surgery become dependent on them," notes lead author of the study Brinda Krish, D.O., in a news release, "and veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental overdoses as civilians. Clearly it is crucial to have multiple options for treating pain, and acupuncture is an excellent alternative. It is safe, cost effective, and it works."

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