Health Problem: More than 17 million surgeries were performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers associated with hospitals in 2014 in the United States. Up to 80% of surgical patients have postoperative pain, or acute pain after surgery. Use of adjunct nonpharmacological analgesia, such as acupuncture, may reduce the need for pharmacological pain management and may, therefore, decrease the incidence of drug-related side effects.

Technology Description: The technique of acupuncture involves percutaneous insertion of very fine needles to a depth of approximately 10 to 15 millimeters at prescribed acupoints. In some cases, low-voltage current is applied to the needles; this is referred to as electroacupuncture.

Controversy: Concerns regarding the opioid epidemic have fueled considerable interest in nonpharmacological strategies, including acupuncture, for pain management in recent years. Numerous federal regulatory agencies have advised or mandated that nonpharmacologic options for pain be offered by healthcare systems and providers.

Key Questions:

Among adult patients who undergo invasive surgical procedures:

  • What is the efficacy of acupuncture for treating postoperative pain and reducing postoperative analgesic use compared with sham acupuncture or standard care alone?
  • Is acupuncture safe for treating postoperative pain?
  • Have definitive patient selection criteria been established for use of acupuncture for treatment of postoperative pain?

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