Acupuncture For Surgical Pain

10/1/2008 DURHAM, N.C. Lauren Hennessey is being prepped for surgery. And along with drugs to numb the pain, she's getting acupuncture. Duke University anesthesiologist TJ Gan said acupuncture sparks the release of endorphins and other natural pain killers in the body, making pain medication work more effectively.

"We have found that by using acupuncture, you can potentially reduce the amount of painkillers that you otherwise would need to use during surgery," Dr. Gan told Ivanhoe. "Some studies suggest that accupuncture can also reduce the amount of anesthetic that you need to provide for the patients."

And fewer drugs mean fewer side effects.

"I never vomited," Hennessey said. "I was nauseous for very shortly and my pain was very minimal."

Dr. Gan said the pain relieving benefits of pre-operative acupuncture may last far longer than the effects of any drugs.

"There is evidence to suggest that if you control the pain well during surgery, not only does it benefit the patient immediately post-operatively, but there is also increasing evidence to suggest that this will prevent longer-term pain problems," Dr. Gan said.

But even with the growing body of evidence of its benefits, Dr. Gan said acupuncture should only be used as a complement to traditional anesthesia.

"For most of the conditions, I think we still need powerful drugs to control pain, but I think acupuncture would be a very useful addition to that regimen," Dr. Gan said.

Dr. Gan said he targets both universal and localized acupuncture points in patients, depending on the part of body that will be affected by the surgery. Acupuncture for surgery pain is also used at Yale, Stanford and Massachusetts General, among others.

Melissa Schwarting
Senior Media Relations Strategist
Duke University Medical Center
(919) 660-1303


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