An emergency department trial places acupuncture as equivalent to drugs for relieving certain pain.

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For the study, emergency physicians at The Alfred, Northern, Cabrini and Epworth hospitals partnered with RMIT's school of health sciences to see if acupuncture could relieve acute pain in hundreds of patients presenting with lower-back pain, sprained ankles or migraines.

When patients rated their pain one hour after treatment, it was found that acupuncture provided the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs. Participants treated with acupuncture also tended to leave hospital earlier, suggesting it sped up emergency department care.

Dr Michael Ben-Meir, director of Cabrini Hospital's emergency department, said that acupuncture may be particularly good for people who did not want drugs, such as pregnant women, and that rising health costs should encourage more scientific assessment of safe, effective complementary medicines.

A trial in four Melbourne emergency departments has suggested that acupuncture may be as effective as drugs in relieving some types of pain.