Acupuncture vs. Pain Medication

Acupuncture vs. Pain Medication

Acupuncture vs. Pain Medication title
            Acupuncture treatment, as we know, is extremely effective for all types of pain management among other conditions both mental and physical. The multifaceted and individualized nature of acupuncture treatment lends way to not only more options for healing, but the patient healing on a much deeper level. Pain medication obviously has its place in modern medicine, but patients now are coming to realize that it does more harm than help. The amount of side-effects alone with over the counter and prescribed pain medications are reasons to find alternative ways to mitigate pain, and in recent years, that has been acupuncture. Being that over 10 million acupuncture treatments are done each year in the United States alone, only shows its efficacy, safety, and shift of patient mindset for other modalities to get off pain medication.

NSAIDS & Opioids

            Pain relieving medications have been the leading option for pain management for many decades offering relief from everyday ailments like headaches and back pain to pain after surgery. As it is with most medications, patients all may have different responses to each medication, but when it comes to opioids, all have the potential for addiction at the very least.  
NSAIDS – as per the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, If NSAIDS are taken for more than 10 days a doctor should be contacted as there are serious side effects that become more at risk after that point including:
  • Kidney damage

  • Skin reactions like blisters or rash

  • Nausea

  • Bruising or bleeding in the stomach

  • Higher risk of stroke and/or heart attack
Although NSAIDS are helpful for things like reducing fever, relieving pain from swelling or muscle aches, there are many contraindications that come with taking these over the counter medicines depending on the patient’s overall condition or what other medications they may be taking.

NSAIDS should be avoided if the patient:

  • Is allergic to aspirin or other pain medications

  • Has heart disease

  • Takes a blood thinner or has a blood disorder

  • Drinks alcohol on a regular basis

  • Has bleeding in the stomach and/or intestines or has stomach ulcers

  • Has liver or kidney disease

  • Has high blood pressure
Many patients are usually stuck taking ibuprofen or aspirin, and the problem is that short term this may be fine to ward off pain, but long term the body can become accustomed to the medication and no longer work. If this happens, patients are then left with the other option of a stronger prescription strength medication or opioid.

Being that the United States opioid epidemic is still a real problem, only becoming more so in recent years, Opioid involved overdose deaths raised from 21,089 in 2010 to 80,411 in 2021. This astronomical amount only goes to show how reliant both patients and standard medical providers have become on these opioids for a wide range of conditions, sometimes unnecessarily.
Opioids – usually prescribed for pain post-surgery, or for cancer pain. Common prescription opioids include methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Not only is there a serious risk of addiction and overdose, but taking these medications have much more alarming potential side effects.
  • The body becomes tolerant to the medication, and then more is needed for pain relief continuing the cycle of potential addiction.

  • Constipation

  • Nausea/vomiting/dry mouth

  • Depression

  • Decreased levels of testosterone resulting lower sex drive, strength, and energy

  • Sleepiness or dizziness

  • Higher sensitivity to pain

  • Withdrawal symptoms when medication is stopped

  • Confusion

  • Sweating and itchiness
There are far too many Americans that have been affected by the serious side effects associated with opioids and even over the counter medications. Although there is a continuous effort to absolve the opioid crisis, this still continues to be an issue amongst the masses. Acupuncture treatment is amongst those modalities that are working hard to mitigate the damage from harmful opioid medications.

Acupuncture for Pain Management

            Acupuncture as a replacement for pain medications has gained attention in recent years especially with the opioid crisis continuing to grow. The benefit of acupuncture treatment when comparing to pain medications is that while pain medications help for the short term, acupuncture can help for the long term, and at less of a cost both monetarily and physically without the risk of other health issues.

Acupuncture Benefits for Pain vs Medication:

  • Decreases pain intensity

  • Improves sleep

  • Soften tense tissues over time

  • Decreased stress and anxiety

  • Mental clarity

  • Aids with stress and or anxiety at the same time as mitigating pain

  • Treating the person not the symptoms
It is important to educate the patient that their pain is correlated with their physical aspects and conditions. Acupuncture at its simplest form regarding pain management decreases inflammation, increases range of motion, speeds up recovery, and reduces the dependence on pain medication. According to American Specialty Health, there was a 2-year survey published in 2016 involving more than 89,000 patients showed that 93% saw success with acupuncture treating their musculoskeletal pain.
It is important that we note when these pain medications are needed in addition to acupuncture depending on the patient, and also important that we know as providers when it is appropriate for these to enter the patient’s treatment plan. However, it is clear that acupuncture treatment decreases the need for pain medication, and has longer standing relief.

Based on information regarding the pain medications out there, and research on acupuncture for pain, acupuncture actually helps with pain in addition to providing more lifestyle benefits to the patient rather than the harms opioids and NSAIDS can provide. Acupuncture is the safest, most holistic, and logical option in medicine today. Working together as healthcare providers, both eastern and western, we can decrease the damage done on modern healthcare with harmful opioids by offering the beneficial treatment of acupuncture for pain management.