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Acupuncture more effective for pain than drugs: study

Study suggests that acupuncture works better for pain relief, draws international attention

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Published : 2013-05-02 20:11
Updated : 2013-05-02 20:11

New research by Korean doctors of Oriental medicine suggested that a homegrown acupunctural method could reduce acute lower back pain faster and more effectively than conventional drug injections.

In a joint study conducted by doctors of Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine and researchers of the Korea Institute for Oriental Medicine, pain was reduced significantly more among patients who received a nontraditional acupuncture treatment called motion style acupuncture (MSAT) compared with another group who had an injection of diclofenac sodium, a drug widely used for immediate pain relief.
A patient, assisted by two doctors, walks with acupuncture needles inserted into his body. (Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine)

“Our study has shown that MSAT was more effective for pain and function in acute low back pain patients with severe disability in the short term and up to four weeks (longer) than conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug injection,” the report said.

The clinical trial report titled “Motion style acupuncture in acute low back pain patients with severe disability” was published in the online edition of the Journal of the International Association for the study of Pain, one of the leading organizations for pain relief and treatment.

It will be published in the July print edition as the first study of Oriental medicine for pain relief to be featured in the U.S-based medical journal, the authors said.

“This is the first study that shows objective evidence that acupuncture works better as pain relief than drugs. We are glad to get such international attention and recognition,” said Ha In-hyuk, a doctor at Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine.

The study assessed the pain level on a scale of 0 to 10 as well as the functional level in activities of patients from the two groups. A group of 28 patients who received the motion style acupuncture said the pain level reduced 46 percent on average in 30 minutes while the other 28 patients who had the drug injection had their pain level drop 8.7 percent in the same amount of time. The level of physical disability of patients who were treated with the acupuncture method dropped 39 percent on average in the first 30 minutes while others said their disability merely improved.

The treatment method, developed by Jaseng Hospital, requires a patient to exercise while having acupuncture needles inserted. Practitioners lift a patient in pain with severe disability by putting their arms around his or her waist and apply needles to acupoints ― the back of a neck, elbow, hands and top of the foot. Patients are asked to walk with assistance from practitioners. In less than in 20 minutes, patients were able to walk on their own and the level of pain was reduced, the hospital said.

The pain level cited from the two groups reached a similar stage six months after the treatment. However, more patients who had the drug injection were hospitalized for intensive care for a longer period of time, it added.

Of the 28 patients in the injection group, 27 were hospitalized for nearly 18 days on average. A total of 19 patients in the acupuncture group admitted themselves to hospitals and stayed 12.5 days on average.

The study, however, did not explore the scientific background that explains why the acupuncture method is effective and what changes it caused in the patients’ bodies.

“The strong stimulation of distal acupuncture points in motion style acupuncture treatment may enhance the effects of pain relief by triggering ‘diffuse noxious inhibitory controls’ and increasing the secretion of endorphins by stimulating internal activity of the central nervous system,” Shin Joon-shik, coauthor of the study, said in the paper.

To prove this theory, a group of U.S. scientists initiated a study of this Oriental medicine method in treating patients with acute lower back pain, said Shin who serves as chairman of the Jaseng Medical Foundation.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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