Getting a New Point in the ER
Tue Apr 23,11:56 PM ET
By Kathleen Doheny
TUESDAY, April 23 (HealthScoutNews) -- Acupuncture may seem out of
place in a hospital's harried emergency room, since it requires the
painstaking placement of needles all over the body.
However, the ancient Chinese practice -- along with traditional
treatments -- can ease certain ER patients' pain and anxiety
quickly, claims new research from a pioneer of the approach.
"Acupuncture is a very feasible treatment to use in the emergency
department," says Dr. Martha Grout, a Phoenix doctor and
acupuncturist. "It's a wonderful treatment to use in addition to
standard Western medicine."
In 1997, Grout began treating emergency room patients at Phoenix
Memorial Hospital with a combination of Western medicine and
acupuncture for conditions that ranged from headache and backache
pain to anxiety, depression and stress-related illnesses such as
irritable bowel syndrome.
In a six-month study of acupuncture treatments used on more than 100
people who came to the hospital's ER in 1999 and 2000, Grout says
she found the treatments not only helped eased pain and anxiety, but
also sometimes eliminated the need for medication.
When that happens, she adds, "You can send the patients home
Her study, believed to be one of the first of its kind, will be
published next month in Medical Acupuncture, the journal of the
American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Grout also just presented a
workshop on acupuncture in the ER at the academy's annual meeting in
Los Angeles this weekend.
She's not suggesting that acupuncture replace Western methods; only
that it supplement them.
"There's nothing better than Western medicine to treat acute
emergency problems," she says, but acupuncture's role shouldn't be
Among her findings:
Of 16 patients who sought treatment for severe headache pain, 62
percent said they were either pain-free or had 80 percent pain
relief after acupuncture.
Of the 77 patients who had fractures, sprains or strains, 30 percent
reported being pain-free or almost so after acupuncture. The
treatment was typically given after X-rays, but before applying
casts, she says, when the pain was still severe.
Five of 12 patients who had pain from such conditions as toothaches,
carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow said the acupuncture took
away the pain completely when pain medication hadn't worked.
"The relief is more than you could explain by placebo effect," Grout
Grout keeps her acupuncture equipment in the ER at all times, and
she says she shifts back and forth between Western and Eastern
medicine as a patient's condition demands.
However, she cautions, acupuncture is not for everyone. Needle-
phobic patients typically decline the treatment, she says, even
though the needles used for acupuncture are finer than those used
for routine injections. And she does not use acupuncture on very
agitated patients, citing safety concerns.
Only a handful of U.S. doctors use acupuncture in an ER setting,
Grout says, but she predicts the number will grow as acupuncture and
other complementary medicine techniques continue to gain acceptance
among Western-trained doctors.
Not all ER doctors think the trend will catch on that quickly.
David Vukich, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at
the University of Florida, Jacksonville, and a spokesman for the
American College of Emergency Physicians (news - web sites), says
time is an issue.
He notes his colleagues' first reaction would probably be: "Gosh,
that's just too slow for this setting." These days, he notes, ER
doctors face "huge pressures" to work faster and smarter.
However, he adds, he doesn't rule out the value of acupuncture in
the emergency department entirely. "Acceptance of acupuncture is
growing," he says.
Dr. Jay Kaplan, vice president for emergency services for the
Arizona region of Banner Health System, says ER doctors may warm up
to the concept.
"I think it's a great idea, particularly for certain kinds of
illness, such as headache," he says.
Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago.
Proponents theorize there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on
the human body, connected with pathways called meridians that
conduct energy throughout the body. When the energy flow becomes
blocked or unbalanced, acupuncture is believed to restore the
"Think of the needle as tiny bridges that you put into the areas of
blockage," Grout says. "The needle helps the energy move over the
gap. You take out the needle, and the energy still flows."
In 1966, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites)
approved acupuncture needles, classified as medical devices, for
used by licensed practitioners in general acupuncture use.