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Acupuncture, Acupressure and Aromatherapy May Offer Pain Relief


If you’re looking for pain relief options that are backed by scientific evidence, then you may find what you’re looking for in the three A’s: acupuncture, acupressure, and aromatherapy. Presenters at the recent EFIC Congress “Pain in Europe VII” reported that these three alternative therapies can be efficient in reducing pain.

Pain relief may be possible without pills

Dissatisfaction with a pharmaceutical approach to pain relief—whether it is because of side effects, cost, availability, or other reasons—has led many people to seek alternatives. At the recent EFIC Congress, Professor Edzard Ernst from Exeter, UK, noted that while few alternative pain therapies are supported by scientific evidence, some studies regarding acupuncture, acupressure, and aromatherapy have been shown to reduce pain.

One of the presenters, Dr. Winfried Meissner of Jena, Germany, explained that acupuncture used after surgery can provide a moderate reduction in pain. Meissner noted that “our own studies show that acupuncture…produces similar effects in the brain as pain relievers. There is a clear indication of a specific analgesic effect through acupuncture.”

A reason acupuncture can relieve pain has been shown scientifically. According to Dr. Konrad Streitberger of Bern, Switzerland, “Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that real acupuncture not only causes stronger activation or deactivation response patterns than placebo treatment in pain associated areas of the brain, but also that this effect can be modulated by a positive expectation.”

A review of recent literature on aromatherapy turned up a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, in which researchers tested whether lavender oil aromatherapy could reduce the pain of needle insertion in 30 volunteers. The experimental group received oxygen with a face mask coated with lavender oil for 5 minutes, while the control group did not. Subjects in the aromatherapy group had significantly reduced pain and stress associated with needle insertion compared with controls.

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In another study in the same journal, a combination of aromatherapy and acupressure was used in stroke patients who had hemiplegic shoulder pain. One group received aromatherapy (lavender, rosemary, and peppermint) and acupressure treatments twice daily for two weeks, while a second group received the same amount of treatments, but with acupressure only. Although patients in both groups reported a marked reduction in pain after treatment, patients in the aromatherapy plus acupressure group fared better.

At the EFIC Congress, presenters also reported on new research by a Japanese team indicating that acupuncture and acupressure can significantly reduce chronic neck pain. Acupressure works by applying finger pressure onto reflex points that are within or just adjacent to a painful area. Pressure on these points also impacts the autonomic nervous system, resulting in a reduction in heart rate.

A Cochrane review looked at the effect of acupuncture and acupressure for pain management in labor in 13 studies involving 1,986 women. The reviewers found that compared with controls, women in three acupressure studies had reduced pain intensity, while women in one acupuncture trial had a reduced need for pain killers.

Although alternative pain relievers such as acupuncture, acupressure, and aromatherapy cannot address all types of pain, these non-pharmaceutical approaches can be a welcome option for some patients. These studies represent only a portion of those that have investigated the merits of acupuncture, acupressure, and aromatherapy, and thus anyone who is considering pain relief alternatives should explore the available research.

Kim S et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2011 Sep; 17(9): 823-26
Rattue P. Medical News Today 2011 Sept 27
Shin BC, Lee MS. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2007 Mar; 13(2): 247-51
Smith CA et al. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011 Jul 6; (7):CD009232

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons



Great to hear more about alternative methods of dealing with pain. Accupuncture, accupressure and aromatherapy have been around for years and offer wonderful alternative solutions for alleviating pain. I have used accupuncture in the past to deal with back pain as well as hip pain from running too much. I have had incredible results without using drugs. When I had my baby, I used Nikken magnets (magboy) for relieving labor pains in my low back. The nurses couldn't believe that I wasn't feeling the contractions that were showing up on the monitor (they were using the magboy on my low back). I have also had incredible success with the aromatherapy products from ElanVeda, either for muscle and joint pain or for sinus and headaches. We should all look for more natural ways to deal with pain instead of reaching for the bottle of pills.