Acupuncture for Pain Management

November 4, 2018 Joe Brady

More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids—a 2-fold increase in a decade. Source: CDC WONDER. Because of this record number of deaths it is time to look at alternatives in medicine. Even the FDA is proposing that doctors learn more about acupuncture for pain management.

The Food and Drug Administration released the proposed changes on educating health care providers about using acupuncture and other therapies that might help patients avoid prescription opioids. For over 5000 years acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine has helped people to reduce pain and relieve suffering. This time tested treatment is getting a second look as part of the current push to reduce addiction to opioids (synthetic heroine). The FDA has proposed changes to education guidelines for doctors that would include education about acupuncture.

There are alternatives to dangerous drugs

“[Health care providers] should be knowledgeable about the range of available therapies, when they may be helpful, and when they should be used as part of a multidisciplinary approach to pain management,” the agency wrote in the proposal.

The American College of Physicians recommended non-surgical treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, and chiropractic care as the first options for treating lower back pain.

The Evidence Base for Acupuncture as Treatment for Pain

A systematic review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was conducted to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for chronic pain. Data meta-analyses were conducted using data from 29 of 31 eligible RCTs, with a total of 17,922 patients analyzed.

Acupuncture was superior to both sham and no-acupuncture control for each pain condition (P < .001 for all comparisons). After exclusion of an outlying set of RCTs that strongly favored acupuncture, the effect sizes were similar across pain conditions. Patients receiving acupuncture had less pain, than sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, respectively; the effect sizes in comparison to no-acupuncture controls were 0.55 (95% CI, 0.51-0.58), 0.57 (95% CI, 0.50-0.64), and 0.42 (95% CI, 0.37-0.46) SDs. These results were robust to a variety of sensitivity analyses, including those related to publication bias.

Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo.

Acupuncture provides better pain relief than oxycodone or tramadol

According to data from 29 Randomly controlled clinical trials and data from the National Safety Council


Number Needed To Treat (NNT) Score

The gold standing in comparing many duties on the effectiveness of a treatment is the NNT or number needed to treat a lower number means better pain relief.

Acupuncture NNT = 4.13 

Oxycodone      NNT = 4.6 

Tramadol NNT =  8.3 

As a result of the evidence and the pressing nature of reducing opiod addictions and deaths Attorney’s General from 35 States have written a letter to the Ceo of America’s Health Plan representing 1300 member health care providers to encourage their members to cover and prioritize the use of Acupuncture and other alternative medicine approaches to the treatment of pain.

For More Information and a film we made on acupuncture anesthesia for surgery See our Acupuncture Clinic Page

Acupuncture Clinic