Everyone will experience pain at one point or another. Most of the time the pain goes away, but if it doesn’t: how do you manage it? Many people choose opioids, which are painkilling medications. For short-term, post-surgery cases, the benefit may outweigh the risk of taking opioids. However, long-term use of painkiller medications has a high risk of causing constipation, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, forgetfulness, and death. The most frustrating aspect of managing chronic pain with opioids is that it may not actually manage your pain. Many people taking painkilling medications long-term develop a tolerance and become dependent on them, while the cause of their pain remains unaddressed.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US. There are more deaths from opioids than from any cancer. There were 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015, with over 20,000 of those related to prescription pain relievers.
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) recognizes this issue and states in their opioid policy that the evidence for risk associated with opioids has surged, while evidence for benefits has remained controversial and insufficient. Over the last decade, there has been a parallel increase in opioid sales and an increase in morbidity and mortality associated with these drugs.
ASAM statistics show that in 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. The prevalence of opioids in American society is truly an epidemic. To fight this, the government is taking legislative action to reduce the availability of opioids. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that health care providers take steps to reduce opioid prescriptions, and therefore, opioid related deaths.
The FDA implores health care providers to be knowledgeable about the range of available therapies, when they may be helpful, and when they should be used as part of a multidisciplinary approach to pain management. Among these recommended therapies is acupuncture. Opioids do not cure the root cause of pain, but acupuncture aims to do just that.
Fortunately there are alternative options to side effect-heavy opioids, one of the best being acupuncture. Acupuncture stops pain by activating the parts of the brain that respond to the body’s natural painkillers: beta-endorphin, enkephalin, endomorphin, and dynorphin. Acupuncture effectively regulates the perception of pain in the body, while causing almost no side effect. Acupuncture can heal old injuries. One clinical trial found that chronic tennis-elbow pain was reduced by 50% after just one acupuncture treatment. The older the injury, the more treatments are needed. The process is slower but the end result of using acupuncture to manage chronic pain is drug-free and most importantly: pain-free.
American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Opioid Addiction Disease Facts & Figures. 2016.
Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). Model Policy for the Use of Opioid Analgesics in the Treatment of Chronic Pain. Policy of the House of Delegates of the FSMB, July 2013.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA Education Blueprint for Health Care Providers Involved in the Management or Support of Patients with Pain. May 2017.
Lin, J., Chen, W. Acupuncture Analgesia: A Review of Its Mechanisms of Actions. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine 36 (2008): 635-645.
Molsberger, A., Hille, E. The Analgesic Effect of Acupuncture in Chronic Tennis Elbow Pain. Rheumatology 33 (1994): 1162-1165.