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Acupuncture May Work Wonders For Chronic Pain

Update Date: Sep 11, 2012 11:04 AM EDT
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Pinhead, the antagonist from the 1987 horror flick Hellraiser, is the epitome of an acupuncture procedure gone horribly wrong. Irritated from his chronic headaches, he travels to earth for an extraterrestrial solution to his ailment and when an amateur acupuncture specialist has a heart attack mid procedure, the cenobite goes on a soul-sucking rampage of revenge, after being verbally harassed by passerby's with the nickname pin-head---This may not be the actual plot of the flick, but it is as good of a lead in as any for this report.

An analysis of more than two dozen of reports consisting of randomized controlled trials claims that Acupuncture, the practice of inserting and stimulating needles at specific points on the body, may be better than pills or mockupuncture for treating some forms of chronic pain, particular, back, shoulder and head pains and arthritis.

"We found acupuncture to be superior to both no-acupuncture control and sham acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain," the authors of the study comment. "Although the data indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo, the differences between true and sham acupuncture are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to therapeutic effects."

The results suggest that patients who receive legitimate acupuncture treatments have lower pain scores than those that received sham acupuncture which consists of needles inserted superficially, and non-needle approaches such as deactivated electrical stimulation or detuned laser, according to the study.

"Our results from individual patient data meta-analyses of nearly 18,000 randomized patients in high-quality RCTs provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option for patients with chronic pain," the authors conclude.

Health economists from Johns Hopkins University report in The Journal of Pain that the annual cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. 

CBS news reports that while several weekly sessions, typically costing about $60 to $100 per session, are recommended to treat chronic pain, Acupuncture's use has become more mainstream.

"The military has used it to help treat pain from war wounds, and California recently passed legislation that would include acupuncture among treatments recommended for coverage under provisions of the nation's new health care law," CBS news reports.

While unfamiliarity with it prevents physicians from recommending the procedure to patients, acupuncture is in fact a safe and viable method of treatment. 

The study was conducted by Andrew J. Vickers, D.Phil., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues  and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. 

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