A new study led by the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia revealed that acupuncture could serve as a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs in hospitals' emergency department.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, showed that acupuncture could provide a long-term relief to emergency patients experiencing considerable pain.

"Emergency nurses and doctors need a variety of pain-relieving options when treating patients, given the concerns around opioids such as morphine, which carry the risk of addiction when used long-term," said Marc Cohen, a professor at RMIT's School of Health and Biomedical Sciences and lead investigator of the study, in a press release. "Our study has shown acupuncture is a viable alternative, and would be especially beneficial for patients who are unable to take standard pain-relieving drugs because of other medical conditions."

For the study, the researchers followed patients that came in the emergency department of one in four tertiary hospitals in Melbourne. Selected participants in the study were those who presented acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprain that has a pain score of at least 4 on a 10-point verbal numerical rating scale.

Out of the thousands of patients, 528 were selected to take part of the study. Among those, 270 have acute low back pain, 92 have migraine and the remaining 166 have ankle sprain. The researchers randomly divided the participants into three groups. The first group was treated with acupuncture alone, while the second and third groups were treated with pharmacology alone and a combination of acupuncture and pharmacology, respectively.

An hour after being treated, less than 40 percent of the patients reported significant decrease in their pain rating. On the other hand, over 80 percent of the participants reported to still have a pain rating of at least 4.

Interestingly, majority of the participants across all treatment groups reported feeling better 48 hours after their treatment. In the acupuncture only group, about 82.8 percent of the patients would probably or definitely repeat their treatments. On the other the percentage of participants that will probably or definitely repeat their treatment in the pharmacology alone and combination were 78.2 and 80.8, respectively.

The researchers noted that pain is the most common reason of people coming in hospital's emergency department. Despite this, management of pain patients were oftentimes inadequate. Using opioids to manage the pain may result in addiction, while other pain-relieving drugs counteracts with some maintenance medication. Due to this, the researchers highlighted the importance of having an alternative treatment for pain that does not require the use of drugs.