Administration Views Acupuncture As Better Back Pain Alternative Than Opioids

In light of the high number of Americans who suffer from chronic low back pain and the epidemic of opioid addiction, the Trump administration is investigating the idea of providing Medicare coverage for the cost of acupuncture. The hope is that patients who are seeking pain relief will be more open to trying the alternative treatment rather than narcotic pain killers if the costs are taken care of.

Speaking of the decision just after the proposal was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Secretary Alex Azar said:

“Defeating our country’s epidemic of opioid addiction requires identifying all possible ways to treat the very real problem of chronic pain, and this proposal would provide patients with new options while expanding our scientific understanding of alternative approaches to pain.”

Initially, the ability to receive compensation for acupuncture treatments for lower back pain will only be available to those who are either enrolled in National Institute of Health clinical trials or treatments that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has pre-approved. The reason being offered for that limitation is that “the evidence base for acupuncture has grown in recent years … but questions remain.”

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment for a variety of health conditions, including back pain. It is an ancient Chinese form of medicine in which very thin needles are inserted into strategic points in the body. Different types of needles are applied at different depths, and though some studies have shown that both real acupuncture and sham acupuncture have delivered positive results, those results have still provided relief without the clear detrimental effects that opioid use can have: even a placebo effect is preferable when it works.

The proposal will likely elevate the amount of research that is done into the effects of acupuncture, which previous studies have shown can provide real benefits with few side effects. With CMS providing coverage for the practice in the hands of an approved, proven practitioner, much more will likely be learned about how to interpret its results.

A study conducted recently by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality may have contributed to the government’s decision to move forward with its compensation program. That study showed that patients with chronic low back pain experienced slight, short-term improvements in both pain and function following the use of acupuncture.

Though the effect was not permanent, it could prove helpful in combination with other conservative approaches, or to help patients as they are considering minimally invasive spine surgery. The use of acupuncture and other therapies, including yoga and exercise, has been encouraged by the American College of Physicians.

If you are suffering from lower back pain, there are numerous conservative approaches that can offer you both short- and long-term relief. Contact our New Jersey spine specialist office today to set up an appointment and see how we can help.

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