Doctor Personally Tries Acupuncture Before Recommending To Pain Patients

By Beth Leipholtz 05/01/18

The doctor was nervous for his first acupuncture treatment but he left with a clearer head and less soreness.

man receiving acupuncture treatment

This past December, the American Pain Society endorsed a lesser used method for controlling chronic pain: acupuncture. 

According to Dr. Conor Lavelle, a physician, healthcare journalist and patient advocate from Toronto, Canada, the approach is worth trying for patients.

Lavelle explores its treatment potential in an article in Quartz, citing his own experience with acupuncture for treatment of pain.

According to Lavelle, in 1986 the World Health Organization released a visual representation for pain management, referred to as the pain ladder. On the ladder, each rung represented a different class of pain medications. However, Lavelle states, it “lacks any psychological, rehabilitative, or ‘natural’ therapies for pain.”

According to Lavelle, doctors have a history of underrating pain. More recently though, he says, they have been over-treating it instead, in part contributing to the opioid crisis. 

“Given that ‘do no harm’ is one of the guiding principles of medicine, we need to seriously rethink our prescribing patterns,” Lavelle writes.

For Lavelle, one way of rethinking pain management meant exploring acupuncture. Suffering from a shoulder injury himself, he decided to explore the Eastern medicine technique that involves inserting thin needles into a patient's skin to stimulate the body’s response systems.

“I was intrigued by the possibilities of acupuncture as an alternative, but uncomfortable recommending it to my patients, as it was outside the scope of my medical training,” he wrote. “I was also concerned by the design and methodological issues of some pro-acupuncture studies, which made their conclusions less compelling. It was time to gain more insight into the world of alternative medicine.”

Lavelle states that in 2017, an Australian research group published a study indicating that for lower back pain and ankle sprains, acupuncture is as effective as Tylenol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and, in some cases, even opiates.

Lead researcher Marc Cohen said that acupuncture was “a safe and acceptable form of acute analgesia…[and that] it may be useful as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy or when pharmacotherapy is unsuitable.”

According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans have become more likely to try acupuncture in recent years. Lavelle also states that according to the NIH, acupuncture makes up part of the $14.6 billion spent out-of-pocket annually in the U.S. for “complementary” health practices. 

While Lavelle says he was nervous for his first acupuncture treatment, he said that he left feeling looser, with a clearer head and less soreness. While he says he is not necessarily convinced that it worked, he is more likely to recommend that patients try acupuncture.

“When a frustrated patient, walking the dark path toward opioid addiction, asks me if they should try acupuncture, at least now I can tell them it’s worth a shot,” he wrote.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.