I hope you had the opportunity to hear the recent Southern Remedy Radio program on oriental medicine with Jerusha Stephens. If not, take a listen at mpbonline.org. Ms. Stephens, a graduate of Mississippi State University, completed 4 years of post-graduate training in oriental medicine, leading to her licensure by the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure as an acupuncturist. Although her training in oriental medicine involves other treatment modalities, including herbal medicine, her focus is on acupuncture. There are six or so other licensed acupuncturists in the state.
You may have read reports of the increasing death rate from use of prescription narcotics. Physicians have been encouraged to limit the use of narcotics, like oxycodone, in patients with chronic non-cancer pain because of this problem. In that regard, new rules and regulations have been established to make it more difficult for physicians and patients to obtain these medicines. Therefore, many physicians who care for patients with chronic pain are looking for alternative therapies and since we now have a way to ensure that acupuncturists are appropriately trained and licensed, acupuncture is one of those.
What is acupuncture? Acupuncture is a procedure where very fine needles are placed into the skin in areas determined over hundreds of years to be associated with pain in various parts of the body. Individuals usually receive 3-5 treatments spaced a week or so apart to determine if acupuncture is beneficial. If it is, it can be continued over time. If not, it should be stopped. In Mississippi, acupuncturists must receive a referral from a physician for the procedure. This regulation has been put in place to make sure serious underlying illnesses are not missed by treating the pain when there is a underlying medical problem causing it.
Conditions for which acupuncture have shown possible benefit include chronic pain, post-operative nausea and vomiting, chemotherapy induced nausea, acute pain, including dental pain, headache, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hay fever. Properly performed, the procedure is safe, but there have been difficulties in proving its effectiveness in the same way that effectiveness is proven with medications. For the most part, small studies have demonstrated that acupuncture is effective to some degree in low back pain, knee arthritis, migraine headaches, and some types of pain, but that the treatment is no more effective when traditional points are used than points chosen at random. The mechanism by which acupuncture works has been proposed to be the release of brain endorphins, narcotic-like analgesics the body normally produces when pain is present.
Most insurance plans do not pay for this therapy. Therefore, my suggestions to patients have been, if chronic pain is the problem and daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents like Naprosyn are not effective, a trial of acupuncture may be a good idea, if cost allows. I have several patients who have had excellent responses to acupuncture performed by licensed professionals like Dr. Stephens and because of the new limitations on narcotics prescriptions, I am offering this option to patients who request it.