Acupuncture for Post- Surgery Pain Norman OK
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A Healing Touch for Post-Op Pain
By Victoria L. Freeman, PhD
Pain—whether it comes from a chronic condition or as a result of treatment—can overpower your ability to think, act, work, or just attend to your life. Reaching for painkillers may help in the short term, but even the potent ones can’t ease all of the agony, and they can add mind fog, nausea, and sleepiness to the equation. Integrative physician Wolf Mehling, MD, and his fellow researchers in the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, knew there had to be a better way to manage pain.
The method they settled on could hardly be called high tech. “Prior research and clinical experience suggested postoperative patients feel better faster with acupuncture and massage,” Mehling says, “but we needed hard scientific data to know if these therapies should be considered part of normal care following cancer surgery.” In a recent clinical trial published in the March Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Mehling and his team got their answer. After following 138 cancer patients for three days after surgery, the researchers evaluated the degree of pain, nausea, and depression for two groups: Control group participants received normal postoperative care—mostly pharmaceutical drugs. In addition to the normal care, the intervention group received 30-minute acupuncture treatments on the first and second days after surgery. The treatments included points for pain or nausea (whichever was greater) as well as additional points based on patient need. This group also received 20-minute Swedish massages on each of those two days.
Of the patients who suffered moderate to severe pain the day after surgery, those in the acupuncture and massage group reported significantly less pain than patients receiving only normal care. “Given that all these patients were already heavily medicated,” says Mehling, “a further statistically significant reduction in pain and depression with acupuncture and massage is extraordinary.”
Imaging studies have shown that acupuncture increases activity in the pain-modulating regions of the brain, where it produces opiates (the body’s natural painkillers). So in essence, Mehling explains, acupuncture stimulates your body to relieve its own pain. Massage, he adds, improves circulation and reduces anxiety and the perception of stress. Additionally, while this study reported only modest improvements in nausea, Mehling notes that many other researchers have found greater nausea relief with acupuncture, making chemotherapy and some drug therapies easier to tolerate.
Author: Victoria L. Freeman, PhD
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