Acupuncture used as ‘last resort’ for pain patients

It’s labor-intensive and rarely reimbursed, but some pain management specialists are finding that acupuncture relieves some of their patients when all else has failed.

David Liebeskind, MD, medical director at Peterson Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheeling, WV, uses it as an adjunct to exercise and medication for myofascial pain syndromes and osteoarthritis. A physiatrist board certified in pain medicine, he began using acupuncture about three years ago. Most of his patients had chronic pain and tried just about everything else. He says acupuncture works in about 50% of cases. "One of the biggest problems in West Virginia is that not many insurance companies are reimbursing for acupuncture, and a lot of times we have to use it as an end-of-the road modality." (For more information on alternative medicine, see the resource box, p. 36.)

Alan Doyle, DO, FAAPM&R, assistant professor of medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, uses acupuncture in his outpatient chronic pain program in conjunction with physical therapy and oral medications. He charges a modest $50 per visit since many of his patients have to pay out of pocket for the treatment.

Patients who receive acupuncture treatments often have pain that has been resistant to other types of treatment, such as epidural or trigger point injections, Doyle says. He became certified in acupuncture several years ago at the request of patients, many of whom were military personnel and had received acupuncture for chronic pain while stationed overseas or in other states.