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After surgery a patient frequently request a pain killer–usually an opioid. There are side effects associated with opioids and the less given the better.

Tong Joo Gan, M.D., at Duke University Medical Center, believes acupuncture before and during the surgery is an effective way to reduce the patient’s pain, which means a reduction in pain killers needed. Gan also believes that acupuncture lessens the occurrence of post operative nausea and vomiting, a common post-op patient experience.

Acupuncture has been used by the Chinese for over 5,000 years and is used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, and arthritis. According to Chinese healing practices there are 360 specific points along 14 different lines (called meridians) that are just below the skin and run throughout the body. The belief is that energy, known as chi, flows along the meridians. When there is too much, too little, or a blockage of chi is what causes unhealthiness or disease.

Different bodily locations, or organs, have their own acupuncture points. For example, women undergoing breast procedures receive acupuncture just below the wrist to prevent nausea and vomiting. Another point on the back of the hand is effective in reducing pain.

How acupuncture works is not fully understood. Recent research suggest that the stimulation of acupuncture stimulates the release of hormones or the body’s own painkillers, known as endorphins.

When patients who received acupuncture were compared to a control group, both undergoing surgery, it was found that the acupuncture group had 1.5 times less nausea, 1.3 times less incidences of severe itching, 1.6 times fewer reports of dizziness, and 3.5 times fewer cases of urinary retention.

The benefits to the patient is a reduced need of opioids, faster recovery, less nausea and vomiting.