Are alternative methods like acupuncture effective for pain management?
BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS) in Tennessee is the state’s largest health insurance company, and it recently made a decision with regard to a type of drug that is the most often prescribed in the U.S.; opioids, specifically OxyContin. Because opioids are responsible for the majority of deaths related to drug overdose, with the numbers continuing to rise, as well as increasing cases of babies being born with withdrawal symptoms because of opioid use by the mother during pregnancy, BCBS will no longer cover prescriptions for OxyContin.
Lower back pain, one of the more common reasons for prescribing pain medication, is extremely common. Almost everyone will experience it at one time or another. There are two basic types:
- Acute – while painful, this type of back pain is temporary and usually lasts from a few days to several weeks.
- Chronic – chronic back pain, like any other type of chronic pain, is ongoing and lasts for longer than six weeks. It may subside for a period of time and then come back or lessen and worsen, but it does not completely go away.
Anyone who has experienced back pain knows that it can be very intense, and the temptation to counteract it with a strong pain reliever is understandable. OxyContin has never been a good choice for chronic back pain due to the fact that the body develops a tolerance for the drug within a short amount of time, requiring a higher dose to get the same effect, and because dependence and addiction can develop within less than a week. It has, however, been a prime choice for relieving acute back pain due to its ability to provide powerful relief very quickly. Healthcare professionals are rethinking its use for acute back pain because the risks do not balance the benefits. Most back pain runs its course within a couple of weeks, with over-the-counter pain meds and other home remedies being all that is needed.
In what may be seen as a more surprising move by the insurance giant than the removal of OxyContin from the list of approved medications, is their decision to cover acupuncture as an alternative to the dangerous opioids. Acupuncture has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for roughly two thousand years and is done by inserting very thin, FDA-approved, needles into points on the body that align with the flow of energy.
Acupuncture for Pain Management
Even though insurers have been slow getting on board, acupuncture is not a new addition to the growing field of complementary medicine here in the U.S. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a statement more than 20 years ago confirming that there was sufficient research into the effectiveness of acupuncture as a means of pain relief for a range of areas. Some of the more common are:
- Low back pain
- Dental pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Myofascial pain
Today’s physiatrists, physicians who specialize in non-surgical techniques, have been incorporating complementary techniques like acupuncture into their treatment and rehabilitation plans. Back pain may be as painful and inconvenient as ever but having treatment options that are effective without causing additional harm, as has been the case with opioids, is certainly good news.
At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidence-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing pain or have questions about any other condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.