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Acupuncture During a Knee Replacement Surgery Lessens Post-Surgical Pain

Studies suggest acupuncture during a knee replacement surgery could lessen post-surgical pain (Photo: Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials)

Recent studies suggest that acupuncture during a knee replacement surgery could lessen post-surgical pain.

Many patients experience a level of pain following a knee replacement surgery that usually requires the use of prescription opioid painkillers. Now, new studies suggest that acupuncture may help alleviate that pain without increasing the risk of addiction.

Dr. Stephanie Cheng, an assistant attending anesthesiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an assistant professor of Clinical Anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, conducted a study about the effects of acupuncture. 

“The opioid epidemic has been in the news and on our minds for years and has created an urgency for us to seek alternatives to post-operative pain, and acupuncture can be an attractive option,” said Dr. Cheng. She added that acupuncture might alleviate pain by increasing the release of endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, in the body.

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Results of the New Study

The study has gathered 41 respondents who underwent knee replacement surgery using standard anesthesia protocols and electroacupuncture, which involves applying a small electric current to thin needles inserted at specific acupuncture points in the ear during surgery.

In addition to reporting less pain, 65% of patients who received acupuncture during knee surgery maintained a low-dose opioid regimen of 15 pills or less or remained completely opioid-free for 30 days following surgery. In comparison, only about 9% of people who have knee replacements report such low usage.

Cheng and her colleagues are now investigating the use of acupuncture during additional types of joint replacement surgeries.

Anesthesiology annual meeting

American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting (Photo: ASA)

Think Outside the Box

The study was presented Sunday at the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting.

According to Dr. Nicolas Piuzzi, director of adult reconstructive surgery research in the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery, it’s time to think outside the box when it comes to post-operative pain relief. “We have major health problems associated with opioid abuse and misuse, so anything we can do to mitigate this problem is welcome,” he said.

Piuzzi noted that additional research is necessary before acupuncture during surgery becomes a standard of care.

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