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Acupuncture May Be Effective Nonopioid Treatment for Pain in the VA

Alison Rodriguez
Acupuncture represents a nonopioid alternative for treatment pain, but many institutions, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, are resistant to using the treatment.
Acupuncture represents a nonopioid alternative for treatment pain, but many institutions are resistant to using the treatment. A recent article outlined how integrating acupuncture within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as in general practice can assist in relieving patients’ pain quickly and should be considered more for pain control.

The authors explained the 28-month experience of a neurologist treating patients in an outpatient VA clinic, suggesting that all medical providers be trained in simple acupuncture techniques.

“In 2017, from the Durham VA Medical System alone, there were 2946 referrals to community providers for acupuncture among 2135 patients at an estimated cost of $1,712,974.55,” noted the authors. “The use of acupuncture as part of pain-control planning should be considered with more of a sense of urgency. Among the medical specialties, neurology is particularly suited to be a leader in incorporating acupuncture into daily practice.”

One author completed a 300-hour training course in medical acupuncture in September 2015 and after 3 months, received privileges to include acupuncture treatments in his practice. The author noted that he conducted nearly 2000 treatments on patients he believed would benefit from acupuncture or who were referred to by physicians for a nonpharmaceutical option for pain relief.

The study described the process for considering acupuncture treatment among patients. The author, the neurologist, would perform a neurologic examination while the nurse accesses an acupuncture procedure consent from the electronic medical record. Following the examination, the neurologist discusses a plan with the patient and offers an acupuncture treatment if necessary.

Furthermore, the article explained how institutions, specifically the VA, are typically resistant to the use of acupuncture due to concerns about sanctioning the use of a treatment that many people assume works through a placebo effect. However, the authors emphasized that there is some evidence that acupuncture techniques may be effective for pain control because the treatment stimulates endorphin release.

“Several pain conditions commonly seen in a general neurology practice are particularly responsive to acupuncture. Patient and provider satisfaction are powerful motivating factors to promote auricular acupuncture training (4 or 8 hours) aggressively to all medical providers,” concluded the authors. “Neurology training programs should include the full scope of medical acupuncture training. Acupuncture skills should be a core competency required of all neurologists in a general practice.”


Freedman M, Bierwirth PA. Pragmatic use of acupuncture in a neurology practice: experience in an outpatient veterans administration neurology clinic. Medical Acupuncture. 2018;30(5):242-244. doi: 10.1089/acu.2018.1290.

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