Powerful opioids taken after surgery can have powerful side effects, but new research finds that using acupuncture before and during an operation cuts a patient’s need for the painkillers.
“From a pain perspective, you can reduce the amount of morphine that the patient uses and improve the quality of analgesia and pain control,” said lead researcher Dr. Tong J. Gan, a professor and vice chairman of anesthesiology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C.
Morphine is a type of opioid, a category of potent painkillers that often produce side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
In the new study, Gan’s team analyzed data taken from 15 small randomized clinical trials looking at the use of acupuncture to reduce postoperative pain.
The analysis found that adjunctive acupuncture could reduce post-op itchiness by 30 percent, nausea by 50 percent and dizziness by 60 percent, he said. About eight out of 10 patients will experience those side effects from postoperative morphine, Gan said.
The studies also show that acupuncture could be of benefit following many types of surgeries, the researcher added. Chinese acupuncture was the style used in the studies he reviewed, but similar effects would occur with other styles and whether needles, electrical or manual acupuncture was used, Gan speculated.
Adjunctive acupuncture is “not widely used because people need to be educated,” Gan said. To use it, surgeons need training but they don’t “need to know every acupuncture point. Only a few are important points to relieve this discomfort.”
Gan said he uses acupuncture in about 20 percent to 30 percent of the surgeries he’s involved with. He said that few patients decline to use adjunctive acupuncture, and when they do it’s usually because they have little knowledge of it.
He questioned, however, how widely acupuncture could be used during operations because “acupuncture needles tend to get in the way” in crowded OR conditions.
“For optimum pain control with minimum side effects, opioids plus acupuncture are the way to go and hopefully will become more widely accepted,” Levey added.