Dealing with Pain: Morphine vs. Acupuncture

Being ill or unwell can bring a variety of symptoms to the table. One of the most difficult of symptoms to deal with is pain. It can come from illness or injury, and can be mildly annoying or chronically debilitating. Much of medicine involves attempts at reducing or relieving pain, and as such, there are a variety of pharmacological remedies to select from. One of the most historically effective drugs for pain management is morphine. However, that opens its own Pandora’s box…

More Morphine…

I will always maintain that a combination of Western medicine and TCM (or alternative) will provide the most healing benefit, and even morphine has a time and place. But, is it really the most effective and beneficial form of pain relief?

One of the biggest downsides to morphine is the fact that it’s highly addictive. In fact, many people become dependent on it, even when they no longer “need” it. Heroin, made from morphine, is another powerful pain killer. It is also much more addictive. In addition to this particular side effect is the danger of drug interaction. Individuals dealing with chronic pain as a symptom of a broader condition often take a variety of medications, and a negative drug interaction can be outright hazardous.

No More Morphine

In a study published online July 20, 2016, Doctors at the Emergency Department at Fattouma Bourguiba University Hospital Monastir and the Research Laboratory of the University of Monastir in Tunisia tried to determine if acupuncture or intravenous morphine was more effective in treating acute pain. Let’s see what they came up with.

Instead of Morphine…

They measured the degree of pain reduction as well as the length of time it took to reduce pain in addition to any negative effects. “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. 

No More Pain

Eliminating the pain can seem a lofty goal. As such, pain management has become a science in and of itself. Everyone is different, and no two people will react exactly the same way (just as no two people react to pain in the same way). This alone makes studies a little hard to generalize to other populations, but I’m going to go with the bottom line…

In this particular case, acupuncture was more effective in managing acute pain. This will hardly come as a surprise to many, since it has been used to help manage pain for centuries.  As “alternative” as it may seem, acupuncture is one of the safest ways to do so. No addiction. No drug interactions. Just healing.