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The use of acupuncture before and during surgery reduces patients' post-operative pain and the need for pain-killing medication, American researchers said yesterday.

Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina analysed the results of 15 clinical trials on the effectiveness of acupuncture, a practice that originated in China and involves inserting thin needles into specific body points.

The researchers concluded that it is valuable for pain control in patients undergoing surgery.

The 15 trials showed that patients getting acupuncture before or during various types of operations had significantly less pain afterwards than patients who did not receive acupuncture.

These patients also required less morphine or other opioid pain medications after surgery, which reduced the side-effects such as nausea and vomiting from these types of drugs, the researchers said.

In terms of pain-drug side-effects, the acupuncture patients experienced 1.5 times lower rates of nausea, 1.6 times fewer reports of dizziness and 3.5 times fewer cases of urinary retention compared to the other patients, the study found.

These findings augment a growing body of evidence on the value of acupuncture in improving the surgical experience for patients, the researchers said.

For instance, the US National Institutes of Health say that acupuncture has also been shown to reduce nausea after chemotherapy and surgery.

"The use of acupuncture is still very under-appreciated," said Dr Tong-Joo Gan, vice-chairman of Duke's anaesthesiology department.

"Western doctors are typically not trained [in acupuncture] and they really are not familiar with how it works," Dr Gan said.

"I think practitioners such as surgeons and anaesthesiologists need to have an open mind."

- Reuters