Amidst a growing opioid crisis in the United States, a large majority of Americans still rely on Opioid medications for pain. Roughly 35% of people in the U.S are prescribed painkillers each year (not including those misusing the drugs without a prescription). Despite the fact that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommendation for Opioid medications is limited to cancer and other terminally ill patients, the prescribing and use of Opioids in America has quadrupled since 1999. Currently, more people are overdosing on opioid pain medications than heroin. This is a grim realization that things need to change and other means of pain management should be implemented.
In response to the growing opioid epidemic, the ACP (American College of Physicians) has published new clinical guidelines for the treatment of low back pain in the April 2017 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. This clinical practice guideline suggests non-invasive treatments for acute, subacute and chronic low back pain. The guidelines set forth are all based on a systematic review of randomized, controlled trials. For acute low back pain, they suggest heat, massage, Acupuncture and spinal manipulation. For chronic low back pain they recommend exercise, Acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction tai chi, yoga, motor control exercise, progressive relaxation, electromyography biofeedback, low-level laser therapy, operant therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or spinal manipulation. It is only after the above methods fail that the ACP suggests a physician prescribe opioid medications.
As set forth in the guidelines by the ACP, Acupuncture is a safe recommendation for both acute and chronic low back pain. Acupuncture, which has been practiced for thousands of years, offers several benefits to pain patients and is a great alternative to opioid pain medication. This safe, drug-free treatment manages pain by activating and releasing your body’s own natural pain-killers, such as endorphins, enkephalin, ednomorphin, and dynorphin. Unlike pain medications, Acupuncture actually restores healing and repair mechanisms in the body. Through research we know that Acupuncture decreases inflammation and swelling, increases circulation and blood flow to local areas, increases range of motion, improves organ function by resetting dysfunctional visceral autonomic reflexes, accelerates the metabolism of toxins and promotes relaxation by releasing endorphins which help to reduce physiologic stress throughout the entire body. In table 1 you can see a comprehensive comparison between Acupuncture Treatment and Opioid Pain Medications.
Acupuncture VS. Opioid Pain Medication