Acupuncture Effective for Pain Management
Acupuncture effectively treats chronic pain associated with inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) and may also reduce pain during a procedure used to treat kidney stones, according to two separate studies in Urology (2003;61:1156–9) and Journal of Endocrinology (2003;17:867–70). These two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that acupuncture is an effective pain management therapy.
In the first study, 12 men with chronic prostatitis aged between 26 and 57 years who had failed to respond to treatment (antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, medications that control urinary flow) received acupuncture twice a week for six weeks. Each treatment lasted for 20 minutes and some of the acupuncture needles were attached to a machine that transmitted an electrical current through the needles (a procedure known as electroacupuncture). Some acupuncturists believe that electroacupuncture provides more stimulation and produces a greater analgesic effect. The Chronic Prostatitis Symptom Index (CPSI; a questionnaire that measures pain; urinary symptoms, such as urinary frequency and urgency; and quality of life) and a standardized subjective global assessment (SGA, which measures one’s impression of overall improvement) were administered initially, after six weeks of treatment, and again six weeks and six months after the end of the treatment period.
At the end of six weeks of treatment, 92% of the men had at least a 50% reduction in total symptoms. The average CPSI pain score dropped (improved) by 66% after six weeks of acupuncture. A significant decrease in urinary symptoms and increase in quality of life were also observed. At the conclusion of treatment, 83% of the men felt that acupuncture had markedly improved their overall symptoms and well-being. These benefits were maintained six weeks after the treatment was discontinued, and a majority of the men continued to experience relief for six months to one year.
In the second new preliminary study, three adults with kidney stones who were unable to complete a procedure to break up the stones due to an inability to tolerate the standard pain management medications, received acupuncture in place of standard pain medications prior to the next extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (SWL) treatment. SWL is a non-invasive method of using sound waves (shocks) to help break up a kidney stone into smaller pieces so that it can pass easily through the urinary tract and out through the urine. Four specific acupuncture points known to produce pain-relieving effects were selected and each participant received electroacupuncture for 30 minutes prior to and during the entire SWL treatment.
In all three cases, SWL treatment was completed and tolerated well. Compared with their initial procedures with conventional pain medications that had to be stopped, each person was able to tolerate a higher level of SWL treatment, a higher shock rate, and a greater number of shocks. In other words, they underwent a more aggressive treatment, which could lead to better break-up of the kidney stones. Since pain-killing medications can produce serious and even life-threatening side effects, such as asthma and lung failure, acupuncture may provide a safer alternative for controlling pain, particularly for people who have to undergo this procedure multiple times in order to completely eliminate a stone.
Studies have shown that acupuncture effectively treats low back pain, pain during labor, pain after surgery, as well as many other pain syndromes. The exact mechanism of how acupuncture works remains unknown. Nonetheless, acupuncture is relatively safe when performed by a qualified practitioner and may be worth trying to control pain, especially for those who choose not to take or do not tolerate over the counter or prescription pain medications.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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