NICE – Chronic Pain- Acupuncture

NICE – Chronic Pain- Acupuncture

British acupuncture Council April 2021

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published a guideline for chronic pain in April 2021 stating that painkillers should no longer be prescribed for longer-term pain. We were delighted to see that acupuncture was one of only four treatments recommended.

Around a third of the population may be affected by chronic pain; many of those also have a diagnosis of depression, and two-thirds are unable to go out to work because of it.

‘Pain may be a universal experience, but our concepts of pain are individual’ David Mayor: EJOM, 2:4, p6

NICE Guideline for Chronic Pain: Painkillers out – Acupuncture in

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published a new guideline for chronic pain. This guideline was driven by the urgent need to cut down prescriptions of opioids and other painkillers and includes acupuncture as one of the four recommended treatments.

This is NICE’s first guideline for chronic pain in general, rather than a specific painful condition, and the implications of these recommendations are enormous for UK healthcare policy and allocation of resources.

Around a third of the population may be affected by chronic pain; many of those also have a diagnosis of depression, and it is a major contributor to absence from work.

Pain management

Pain management in this new guideline is focused on chronic primary pain, i.e. there is no underlying condition that adequately accounts for the pain or its impact. It is often accompanied by significant emotional distress and functional disability.

Common conditions that would qualify are fibromyalgia, myofascial pain (i.e. in the muscles and surrounding connective tissue), chronic neck pain and chronic pelvic pain, as well as many others.

Acupuncture (within a traditional Chinese or a western framework) is recommended alongside; exercise programs, psychological therapies and antidepressant drugs.

NICE and Research

NICE considered a number of treatments in creating this guideline including opioids, anti-inflammatories, paracetamol, benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids. None of these were found to have evidence of benefit for chronic pain and there are possible harms associated with their use. Acupuncture was found to be superior to both sham and usual care for pain according to the 32 studies reviewed by NICE.

Two existing studies, and a further analysis by NICE, showed that acupuncture was cost-effective within a NHS framework.

Good news for Patients

This new guideline is a significant development for both patients with chronic pain and acupuncture practitioners in the UK. BAcC accredited acupuncturists are particularly well qualified for treating the wide spectrum of symptoms seen in patients with chronic primary pain conditions due to their degree level training and wide scope of practice.

To learn more about the guideline, click here:

For further information, case studies or interviews, please email:

About the BAcC

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK. With a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists, it is the UK’s largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture.

From Hannah

In Southwell Acupuncture Clinic I treat many patients with Chronic Pain either as a standalone therapy and alongside other modalities such as exercise, yoga, meditation, phycological therapies, physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy as well as alongside western medicine drug therapy and  surgery. These NICE guidelines and research are very encouraging, though we must always remember every individual case is different, each person responds to pain and its effects differently. This is the beauty of Traditional Five Element Acupuncture is that we treat the whole person looking at all aspects of how your condition or conditions affect you as a whole, treating you in physical, mental and emotional health.


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