Perhaps the most difficult aspect of illness or injury is pain.  Regardless of your pain tolerance, it is unpleasant at best and completely debilitating at worst.  History is rife with attempts to manage and eliminate pain, with some being more successful than others.

Morphine was developed for this purpose and is still used today as an effective pain reliever.  The point is not whether morphine is effective for pain relief.  We know it is.  However, is it the most beneficial and effective method for pain relief?

A Bit of Background on Morphine

Morphine is an opioid, made from the opium poppy.  After its development and subsequent use as a pain killer, it was discovered to be far more addictive than even opium.  Heroin was also developed as a pain killer.  Its molecular base is, in fact, morphine, and it’s even more highly addictive.  Some sources suggest that heroin was actually developed as a painkiller to break morphine addiction, but unfortunately, it was quite a bit worse.

When the body is in pain, it cannot heal efficiently or properly.  We need rest to heal.  One of the downsides of a pain killer like morphine is its addictive properties.  Indeed, there are many people who become addicted to prescription pain-killers because they feel they have no other option.  In extreme cases, if you cannot live with the pain, so you cannot live without the medication.  However, we do live in a day and age when there are alternatives (which ironically came before morphine).

In addition to the addictive quality of morphine (and indeed, other pain killers), the more medication a person takes, the greater the chance of adverse drug interactions.

Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Acupuncture is both efficient and successful in relieving pain, including chronic pain, but is it more effective than morphine in a medical setting, for patients experiencing acute pain?  Doctors at the Emergency Department at Fattouma Bourguiba University Hospital Monastir and the Research Laboratory of the University of Monastir in Tunisia attempted to do just that.

In a study published online July 20, 2016, they set out to determine if acupuncture is more effective than intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain.  There were 300 patients in the study, all with acute pain.  Their demographics were comparable, and the study was done over the course of a year.  They were divided equally with regard to those who received morphine and those who received acupuncture (150 in each group), though there were more patients with abdominal pain in the morphine group and more patients with lower back pain in the acupuncture group.

They not only measured the degree of pain reduction, but also the length of time it took to reduce pain as well as any adverse effects.  The results are as follows:  “Success rate was significantly different between the 2 groups (92% in the acupuncture group vs 78% in the morphine group P < .001).”  While morphine was still effective in reducing or eliminating pain, acupuncture proved more effective by 14%.

“Resolution time was 16 ± 8 minutes in the acupuncture group vs 28 ± 14 minutes in the morphine group (P < .005).”  Taking into consideration the margin of error, acupuncture is just as fast, if not faster than intravenous morphine in providing pain relief.

“Overall, 89 patients (29.6%) experienced minor adverse effects: 85 (56.6%) in morphine group and 4 (2.6%) in acupuncture group (P < .001). No major adverse effects were recorded during the study protocol.”  So, the plus side is that neither group suffered major negative effects.  As far as the minor effects go, very few of the patients receiving acupuncture actually suffered even minor negative reactions.

“In patients with acute pain presenting to the ED, acupuncture was associated with more effective and faster analgesia with better tolerance.”  Here’s the bottom line:  Acupuncture proved more effective in managing acute pain than morphine.

Take Everything into Account

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  the combination of both Western and Eastern, or alternative, medicines will provide the most balanced approach to healing the human body (or rather, to helping the body heal itself).  Acupuncture is not addictive.  There is no risk of dangerous drug interactions.  You will find many studies showing many things, but the fact remains that acupuncture is one of the oldest techniques used to manage pain.  It has been in use for this long because it works.

Even taking into account the placebo effect demonstrates the power of the human body to heal itself.  One criticism of the study can be that the acupuncture didn’t do anything at all.  The pain relief was the result of a placebo effect.  Interestingly enough, the placebo effect follows with the idea that the human body is designed to heal itself.  You can call it the power of the mind, you can call it qi, but either way, the body is capable of amazing things.