The largest-ever pragmatic randomised trial of acupuncture carried out in hospital emergency departments has found that it is a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs for acute pain. A total of 1964 patients presenting at four Australian hospital emergency departments with back pain, migraine and ankle sprain were randomised to acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy or pharmacotherapy alone. The results showed that although neither acupuncture nor standard pharmacotherapy afforded patients clinically relevant reduction in pain within an hour, patients still found both treatments to be acceptable, and the effectiveness of acupuncture alone was comparable with that of pharmacotherapy.

Acupuncture for analgesia in the emergency department: a multicentre, randomised, equivalence and non-inferiority trial. Med J Aus. 2017; 206 (11): 494.

A systematic review by American authors also supports acupuncture as an effective treatment for acute pain in the hospital emergency department. Meta-analyses were performed on data from 14 randomised controlled trials (representing 1210 patients) which compared acupuncture with sham, acupuncture with standard analgesia and acupuncture as an adjunct to standard care. Acupuncture was judged to be more clinically effective compared to sham and non-inferior to conventional drug therapy for acute pain. Limited data was also found that indicated superior results if acupuncture was added as an adjunct to standard analgesia. Acupuncture was also associated with improved patient satisfaction, lower cost and fewer adverse effects.

Does acupuncture have a role in providing analgesia in the emergency setting? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Emerg Med Australas. 2017 Jul 26. [Epub ahead of print].