‘Is Acupuncture As Good As Drugs – Or Better?’

Acupuncture as good as drugsIt is interesting when ‘new becomes old’ and ‘old becomes new’.

A number of patients have been commenting on the recent publicity Acupuncture  has been receiving in the news lately;

Acupuncture is just as good as drugs at relieving pain in people’s lower backs and from sprained ankles and migraines, a ground-breaking hospital trial has found.

The extraordinary finding could open the door to Australian hospitals offering the low-cost Chinese medicine therapy used by more than 1 billion people worldwide for pain relief, particularly in Asia.


Acupuncture has been trailed in the emergency department of a number of leading Melbourne Hospitals, including the Alfred, Northern, Cabrini and Epworth.

The purpose of the trial is to see if Acupuncture could relieve acute pain in patents presenting to hospital with either lower back, sprained angles or migraines.

Now the data is still being analysed for publication, but the initial results are very positive as it is showing that acupuncture offered the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs when patient rated their pain after one hour.


While data of the study is still being analysed and finalised for publication in a medical journal, one of the researchers, Michael Ben-Meir, said it showed acupuncture offered the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs when patients rated their pain one hour after treatment.

”Acupuncture was equivalent to what we defined as conventional medicine standard care which was strong oral analgesia such as Endone, Panadeine Forte, Voltaren and Valium,” he said.

Dr Ben-Meir, director of Cabrini Hospital’s emergency department, said the randomised controlled study of about 550 patients also found that the combination of acupuncture with standard pharmaceutical care delivered the equivalent pain relief to acupuncture alone and standard care alone.

The physician, who studied acupuncture nine years ago and has used it on his patients, said the results aligned with his own experience of its efficacy for acute pain. He said it was particularly good for people who did not want drugs, such as pregnant women, and for those whose pain was not relieved by Western medicine.

”I find acupuncture doesn’t always help all patients, but occasionally it’s the thing that gets them home and gets their symptoms resolved,” he said. ”There’s a lot to be thought about and analysed before something like this is a standard therapy.”

Director of emergency services at the Alfred Hospital, De Villiers Smit, said although he was initially sceptical about acupuncture, the study had convinced him it was a safe and effective therapy that could improve pain management in emergency departments. ”About 1.3 billion people use acupuncture on a daily basis, so to me, there must be something in it,” Dr Smit said.

Another chief investigator of the project, who is head of the School of Health Sciences at RMIT and a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, Charlie Xue, said the study was exciting and showed a very low rate of minor adverse events such as bleeding at the site of needling.

Professor Xue said while some medical practitioners were initially resistant to the idea of Chinese medicine being used in hospitals, most were convinced of its value after they had seen it being done.

Dr Ben-Meir said rising health costs should encourage more scientific assessment of complementary medicines.


Is Acupuncture as ‘Good’ as Drugs? Or Better?

If Acupuncture is as Good as Drugs, then it could be argued, it is by inference, better than drugs.

If acupuncture has a similar outcome in terms of pain management, then it has to be better than drugs because it comes without the cost or side effects of the drugs. And the drugs they are using in the trial fairly heavy hitters.

”Acupuncture was equivalent to what we defined as conventional medicine standard care which was strong oral analgesia such as Endone, Panadeine Forte, Voltaren and Valium.”


These drugs are not cheap, especially the Endone and Valium, particularly if they are not subsidised by the government.

If patients had to pay the full cost of their drugs, or many of the surgical procedures used to decrease pain, then there would be long queues outside the practices of many conservative health care professionals Australia wide.

Endone, Panadeine Forte, Votaren and Valium, whilst ‘good’ for pain relief, all produce significant side effects when used over time. I have discussed this further in the section on Prescription Drug Side Effects.

To consider acupuncture as ‘just’ a form of pain control is as simplistic as considering food as something you use to stop from starving. Yes, you can use food to stop starving but there is a little more to it than that.

Likewise you can use acupuncture to help stop pain, but there is a little more to it than that. It assists in recovery, helps promote blood flow to promote healing of damaged tissues, can be used to stimulate immune function and facilitates injury rehabilitation.

I’m am not sure of too many drugs that can do this.


Western Medicine Hubris in Acupuncture Research

I find the hubris of Western Medicine and medical ‘science’ quite astounding at times. It is very critical of other forms of medicine and yet somewhat slow to recognise the problems it has in it’s own back yard.

In a recent article posted in the British Medical Journal, it posed some serious questions regarding the effectiveness of many of the most used medical interventions.

In fact, authors rated 50% (that’s right fifty percent) of commonly used medical treatments had an unknown effectiveness. This is frightening.

The British Medical Journal posted on their website, Clinical Evidence, the results of an analysis of randomized controlled trials focusing on harms and benefits of 3,000 medical treatments. The effectiveness of each treatment was rated based on six criteria: (a) beneficial, (b) likely to be beneficial, (c) trade-off between benefits and harms, (d) unlikely to be beneficial, (e) likely to be ineffective or harmful, and (f) unknown effectiveness.

The results were striking. Only about a third of the treatments were shown to be beneficial (11%) or likely to be beneficial (23%). Another 7% were rated as trade-offs between benefits and harms, with 6% rated unlikely to be beneficial and another 3% rated likely to be ineffective or harmful.

The authors at Clinical Evidence rated the remaining 50% of medical treatments as being of unknown effectiveness. The challenge that evidence ratings like these pose for clinicians is not new.


Western Medicine has always been critical of Chinese Medicine regarding ‘scientific’ trials on Acupuncture.

Western trial have always been geared to asses whether Acupuncture worked or not. Whereas, Chinese Medicine trials are more primarily concerned with what are the best points to use for particular clinical conditions.

The concept of whether it worked or not was not really on the radar.

It has been used for many thousands of years with great success. The Chinese were actually able to move on from the question about about whether it worked or not – they were more interested on what point combinations produced the best results.

How backward of them.


Congratulations to Professor ‘Charlie’

On a personal note; I would like to congratulate the chief investigator of the project – the head of the school of health sciences at RMIT and a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, Professor Charlie Xue.

Professore Xue, or ‘Charlie’ as we knew him, taught us Chinese Medicine.

By us, I mean a number of General Practitioners, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists in the Masters Program at RMIT University.

I was very fortunate to study under Charlie in the Masters program, when Chinese Medicine was first being bought to Australia by this very gifted and talented man. In particular Charlie speaks very clear English so we were actually able to understand what he was saying – and grasp the concepts.

Charlie was a childhood prodigy. He completed Medical school in China, where they are trained in Western and Eastern Medicine, at a very early age.

He was published in his twenties, and has become the driving force in the development of Chinese Medicine in Australia.

I was blessed to learn from Charlie and just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

His knowledge was beyond his years. Even though I had a few degrees prior to studying with him, Charlie’s knowledge was quite impressive, He truely was and is, Chinese Medicine Master.

I congratulate him on this trial, putting Acupuncture on the Map and into hospital where it belongs.

Well done Charlie.



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