Though it may sound like a strange, intolerable treatment, acupuncture is one of the oldest methods for treating pain in the world. It began as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that it was actually recognized in America. Over the years, acupuncture has become more widely accepted as a valid treatment for pain. As a doctor, acupuncture is probably not your go-to remedy for pain management. However, it is definitely worth considering. Before you start recommending acupuncture for pain, it’s important to educate yourself on this thousand-year-old practice!
Prescribing Acupuncture for Pain | Pros and Cons
As with most other things, there are both positive and negative sides of acupuncture. Here are a few things to take into consideration before prescribing acupuncture for pain.
- There are few side effects. Usually, a patient has little to no side effects from acupuncture. Every patient is different, but if your patient experiences side effects from other methods of pain management, acupuncture may be a reasonable option.
- Some insurance policies cover acupuncture. Believe it or not, some insurance companies actually cover acupuncture, but only for a limited period of time. Take note of your patient’s insurance policy before prescribing acupuncture for pain.
- Acupuncturists must be professionals. In the United States, acupuncturists are required to study for three to four years in order to acquire the proper skills and knowledge. So, ensure your patients that they are receiving professional treatment.
- Results aren’t instantaneous. If your patient is looking for a quick fix for their chronic pain, acupuncture probably isn’t the way to go. While some claim that acupuncture provides results after the first session, it usually takes a few months to see noticeable relief.
- Sucess isn’t guaranteed. Like other medical practices, acupuncture does not have a 100 percent success rate. In fact, a patient may not have any success at all. This is definitely something to mention to a patient who is thinking about acupuncture.
- Risk of infection. If acupuncture needles are not sanitized correctly, it could cause a serious infection. Make sure your patient knows this, and be sure to refer them to a trustworthy acupuncture facility.
When is Acupuncture a Valid Option for a Patient?
Obviously, acupuncture isn’t for everyone. In general, it is best for patients who have failed to benefit from conventional methods of pain relief. So, it should not be a patient’s first stop. Make sure that your patient has a clear diagnosis and has tried other options before prescribing acupuncture for pain. Some of the most common conditions for which acupuncture is prescribed are the following:
- Disorders of bones, joints, or muscles like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chronic back, shoulder, or neck pain
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Postoperative pain
- Heavy and/or painful menstrual periods
- Sleep disorders, like insomnia
However, there are individuals who, due to certain health conditions, should not receive acupuncture treatment. It’s probably a good idea to steer clear of prescribing acupuncture for pain if a patient meets one or more of the following criteria:
- They’re diagnosed with a clotting or bleeding disorder, or they are taking blood thinning medication
- They have a metal allergy
- They have an immune disorder or skin disorder
- The patient will be operating heavy machinery immediately following acupuncture treatment
In addition, you should not prescribe acupuncture treatment to a patient who is unwilling or afraid. The patient should be agreeable and have a positive outlook on the treatment. If your patient is pregnant, be sure to remind them that there are certain acupuncture points that could be potentially dangerous to them. Otherwise, acupuncture treatment is safe for pregnant women.
What are your thoughts on using acupuncture for pain? Have you ever recommended it to a patient? Share your thoughts in the comments below!