Acupuncture analgesia has the following advantages in surgical operations. It is a very safe procedure compared with drug anaesthesia; no death has ever been reported from acupuncture analgesia. There is no adverse effect on physiological functions, whereas general anaesthesia often interferes with respiration and blood pressure, for example. There are fewer of the postoperative complications that sometimes occur after general anaesthesia, such as nausea, urinary retention, constipation, and respiratory infections. The patient remains conscious and able to talk with the medical team during the operation so that injury of the facial and recurrent laryngeal nerve can be avoided. However, remaining conscious may be a disadvantage if the patient cannot tolerate the emotional stress of the procedure.
While the benefits of acupuncture analgesia are many, the disadvantages must also be considered. The use of acupuncture is more time-consuming and in many cases may fail to bring about complete analgesia. It is often not suitable for abdominal surgery because suppression of visceral pain and muscle relaxation may be inadequate. It is not suitable in children because few children will tolerate the needling and keep still during major surgery. Also, the surgeon must be quick and deft, so that the operation can be finished before the patient develops tolerance to the needling.
In conclusion, acupuncture analgesia as an anaesthetic for surgical procedures is indicated in selected patients who show a good response to needling in the preoperative trial, particularly when they may be a poor surgical risk under conventional general anaesthesia. The use of adjuvant drugs to potentiate the effect of the acupuncture treatment is preferred. Acupuncture can also be used in combination with general anaesthesia to reduce the dosage of anaesthetic agents (83).