Acupuncture or chili powder for pain after surgery

October 10, 2008

Devotees of oriental medicine will not be surprised by the finding, in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, that acupuncture reduces pain after surgery. More unexpected is that chili powder applied to the skin below the knee can produce the same effect!

In this meta-analysis fifteen studies were analysed – over 1100 patients. In each study, acupuncture was compared with control “sham” acupuncture (acupuncture applied to non-acupuncture points).

  • Acupuncture patients needed less opioid (morphine-like) pain treatment at 8, 24 and 72 hours after surgery
  • Postoperative pain was also significantly less in the acupuncture group at 8 and 72 h compared with the control group.
  • The acupuncture treatment group had a lower incidence of opioid-related side-effects such as nausea, dizziness, sedation, pruritus (itching), and urinary retention (inability to urinate).

The authors conclude that “perioperative acupuncture may be a useful adjunct for acute postoperative pain management”. I was intrigued, and decided to explore the methods used in one of the 15 studies in a bit more detail (Kim KS, Nam YM. The analgesic effects of capsicum plaster at the Zusanli point after abdominal hysterectomy. Anesth Analg 2006; 103: 709–13). Read the rest of this entry »


“Shock treatment” reduces postoperative nausea and vomiting

December 30, 2007

Nausea and vomiting after anesthesia, known as PONV (postoperative nausea and vomiting) is still common, despite new anesthetic agents and anti-nausea medications tested in hundreds of clinical studies. Acupuncture, and related techniques that use pressure (acupressure) or electrical pulses (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) instead of needles, are fairly well studied in the prevention of PONV. These prevention measures seem to be as effective as the standard drugs. There are commercial bracelet devices that exploit this effect. The standard acupuncture point is called Nei guan, or P6, and is located on the inside of the wrist, between two tendons. These systems also appear to be effective in the prevention of motion sickness.

Neuromuscular blocking agents, also known as muscle relaxants (they are in fact reversible, paralyzing drugs), are used routinely in anesthesia for certain surgical procedures. The effect of these drugs is monitored with nerve stimulators, portable devices that deliver small electrical pulses via adhesive electrode patches applied to the skin. As the paralysis wears off, muscles supplied by the nerve that is stimulated begin to twitch in response to the electrical stimulation. Electrodes used for nerve stimulation are usually placed on the face (facial nerve monitoring) or on the wrist (ulnar nerve monitoring).

The Study:

In a simple but clever clinical study done in hospitals in Switzerland and Austria and published in the flagship specialty journal Anesthesiology, investigators have combined nerve stimulation for monitoring of muscle relaxation, with the effects of acupuncture.

By moving one of the wrist electrodes about 2 cm from its usual (ulnar nerve) location toward the center of the wrist, corresponding with the location of both the median nerve and the P6 point, investigators guessed they might achieve both goals – that is, monitor paralysis while providing an anti-nausea effect. The stimulator was set at 1Hz, that is one electrical impulse per second, for the duration of each case.

Placing the electrodes for monitoring and prevention of PONV

Read the rest of this entry »