A recent trial found that arm acupressure was as good as EMLA cream for reducing needle pain in kids.

This study involved 120 children who underwent venipuncture at a hospital in Iran.  The kids were randomized into one of three groups that received either acupressure, EMLA cream (Eutectic Mixture of Local Anesthetic, a blend of lidocaine and prilocaine) before their venipuncture, or venipuncture alone.  EMLA cream is widely used to reduce needle pain, and the evidence suggests that it works.

The problem is that EMLA takes time.  In this study, it was applied 45 minutes before the venipuncture.  Previous studies suggest that it takes about 60 minutes to achieve the full effect.   In this study, a nurse applied pressure to a specific point on each palm, pressing and twisting her thumb for seven rounds of 20 seconds each.  This was repeated at a point on the forehead, with the whole procedure taking about five minutes.

Both methods worked very well.  Pain was measured by observing the kids’ behaviour, using something called the Face, Leg, Activity, Cry and Consolability (FLACC) scale to rate their pain out of 10.  About five minutes after the procedure, the kids who received no pre-treatment had FLACC scores of 7.75.  The EMLA kids scored 2.75 and the acupressure kids scored 2.65.  That is a really big difference, suggesting that both methods work well.

Acupressure is a very powerful tool for managing pain that should be used more in our healthcare system.  It can be done by doctors, nurses and therapists, and certain points can be taught to support workers, friends and family.  This not only provides gentle, safe, free analgesia.  It also creates human contact, the kind of caring, love and compassion that is the impulse of all healing.

This study should be repeated to confirm these findings, and in general more acupressure research is needed.  But this is just one of many tools that shows how integrative medicine can benefit the healthcare system in Ontario and across Canada.  With an opioid crisis and a chronic pain epidemic that hurt communities and strain budgets, it just makes sense.