Acupuncture for Migraine in the Emergency Department

One of the most common reasons for an emergency department visit is pain. Despite its prevalence in this setting, it is not always managed well. A recent Australian study looked to learn more about the effectiveness of a widely used method of pain relief, acupuncture, in the emergency department setting.

The study, which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, compared the pain relief provided by acupuncture, alone or with pharmacotherapy, to patients with migraine in the emergency department, as well as those complaining of low back pain and ankle sprain. Of the 528 participants in the study, 92 presented with migraine and they were randomized to acupuncture, acupuncture and pharmacotherapy, or pharmacotherapy only.

All patients were 18 years of age or older and did not present with any other signs of illness or signs of experiencing a major trauma.

Pain was assessed at the start of the assigned treatment and then hourly until discharge.

While the study found acupuncture in some capacity to provide pain relief in comparison with pharmacotherapy for patients with back pain and ankle sprains, it was not effective for those with migraine. However, all three categories of treatment were largely ineffective for patients within an hour, with the greatest benefit being seen at follow up 48 hours after discharge.

Due to the ineffectiveness of all treatments for rapid pain relief, the researchers found acupuncture to be a safe and acceptable form of treatment. They suggest it is used in association with pharmacotherapy or when pharmacotherapy is unavailable. They concluded that better acute treatment in an emergency setting is necessary.

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