In a recent study published in the journal Laryngoscope and authored by a pair of Stanford University School of Medicine researchers, a double blind, placebo controlled study found that acupuncture preformed during surgery reduced post-operative pain and resulted in a faster restoration of appetite compared to a control group of patients undergoing a tonsillectomy.
The researchers noted that the acupuncture group’s pain relief after surgery occurred twice as fast as the control group, 36 hours for the acupuncture group versus 84 hours for the control group. In addition, the study found that those in the acupuncture group had a return of appetite and ability to eat within 24 hours versus 72 hours for that of the control group.
The study utilized a double blind, placebo controlled framework that utilized sham acupuncture to simulate treatment. Sham acupuncture refers to a series of techniques that are used to ensure the researchers and patients are unable to tell if they received real acupuncture or not. Methods include needling non-acupuncture points on the body as well as specially designed blunt spring loaded needles that can simulate the sensation of a needle being inserted.
The study procedure utilized a variety of acupuncture points known for their analgesic properties, their known benefit for the head and throat, as well as points to reduce nausea and vomiting as well as points to reduce anxiety and agitation. Auricular acupuncture, or the use of acupuncture points on the ear, were utilized as well. Several of the points were stimulated using a variable frequency electrical stimulation device that applies a very small amount of electrical current to an acupuncture needle. This method is frequently used for pain reduction and for acupuncture analgesia used in a variety of surgeries including dental surgery.
The researchers noted that there were no side-effects or complications from the acupuncture and concluded that acupuncture is “feasible, well tolerated, and results in improved pain and earlier return of diet post-operatively.”
Although this study only looked at a single type of surgery, acupuncture has been used during surgery in China extensively to reduce post-operative recovery time, speed wound healing and reduce the need for deep anesthesia drugs. The researchers note that acupuncture during surgery is a relatively new field, but given the success of this study they recommend further research with larger sample sizes.
I think that one of the best things that can come out of acupuncture research is the integration of western medicine and complementary forms of medicine like acupuncture and herbal medicine to be used side by side to ensure that the patient receives the best care possible. Given the high level of safety and ability to reduce cost (less drugs, shorter hospital stays), acupuncture will hopefully be given the green light in more areas of the western healthcare world and will demonstrate its effectiveness and safety.
For a summary of the study click here.
To read the abstract and access the full study click here.