Publication Date



acupuncture, acute pain, emergency department, nonpharmacological treatment, quality improvement


Purpose: Patients often present to the emergency department (ED) for pain. As opioid fatalities rise, alternative treatments are warranted for pain management. Acupuncture, a nonpharmacological treatment involving the insertion of needles into skin or tissue at specific points within the body, may help to decrease acute pain. Our study aimed to assess the utilization and impact of acupuncture in the ED for acute pain management.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of purposefully collected quality improvement data. Patients who were ≥18 years old and who presented to the ED at an urban medical center in Wisconsin during 2017 were offered acupuncture services based on their emergency severity index (ESI; range: highest severity [1] – lowest severity [5]), reason for visit, and physician approval. Paired t-tests were used to examine mean differences between pre- and post-acupuncture pain, stress, anxiety, and nausea scores (range: none [0] – worst [10]). Multivariable regression models also were constructed.

Results: A total of 379 patients received acupuncture. Patients presented predominately with an ESI score of 3 (68.9%) or 4 (24.8%); 46.4% received opioids in the ED. Mean pre- and post-acupuncture pain scores significantly differed (6.5 vs 3.4; P < 0.001); receiving opioids during the ED visit was not associated with improved pain scores (P = 0.948). Stress (5.7 vs 1.9), anxiety (4.8 vs 1.6), and nausea (1.6 vs 0.6) scores also improved (P < 0.001) following acupuncture.

Conclusions: Emergency department acupuncture significantly decreased pain, stress, anxiety, and nausea. Our findings support a larger randomized controlled trial to further assesses the impact of acupuncture for acute pain in other ED settings.




November 26th, 2018


January 25th, 2019


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