Increasing number of Patients opting for acupuncture therapy over long term pain medication

The most popular therapy received in the National Traditional Medicine Hospital is Acupuncture, also known as Kam-Khab (dry needle). This therapy is commonly used to treat pain. This therapy is used for overall wellness, with migraine being the highest followed by joint pains in Bhutan.

This therapy is said to be effective in treating paralysis and stiffness and the therapy balances blood circulation.

Until 2017 the therapy was given unofficially. Starting 2018 it was made official and since then, the traditional hospital has received 9,950 patients in 2018 while in 2019 they have received 13,981 patients, seeing an increase of more than 4,000 patients. In 2020 as of October, they have received 13,660 patients.  

Acupuncture therapy is available only in Thimphu (two Dungtshos) and Paro (one Dungtsho) whereby the patients from across the country have to travel to these two places to receive the therapy. Though they have a plan to roll out the service in other regional hospitals, they couldn’t due to manpower shortage.  

Namgay Lhendup, program officer of Traditional healthcare, Department of Traditional Medicine Services said, “With just two hospitals with the services, we receive unexpected number of patients’ everyday. Shortage of manpower being one issue, we have no space to fit the services in regional hospital even though we want to extend the services.”

They have been carrying out acupuncture camp in regional hospital, but this year due to pandemic they couldn’t, he added. Maximum patients they see are the referral ones from district hospitals.  

Chief Dungtsho Tharpala said that in a day they receive a minimum of 80 patients and 130 patients at the maximum and depending upon the patient’s condition, they recommend the course of the therapy. The standard time set for each patient is 25 minutes; however, they sometime have to keep for an hour and some just for 15 minutes, depending upon the patients.

He said, “Having to treat this many patients in a day is challenging with just the two of us. We do have helpers but still it’s not sufficient as it has to be us to insert the needle on the patient’s body as it may puncture if inserted at a wrong point.”

Some patients faint while receiving the therapy and this usually happens to the young people, he said, adding that when this happens they will have to be near patient until they wake and this hinders the treatment of the next patients. If they have more manpower, they can target more then what they are treating today, he said. 

However, fainting will have no harm and risk the body to the body.

They have requested the ministry for additional doctors. Apart from treating the patients in the hospital, they go for home treatment, for those who cannot come to hospital for the therapy.

43-year-old Sonam Tharchen said that he has been suffering from severe pain in his leg due to nerves problem and he was in bed for three months. However, after one week of the therapy all the pain subsided and he can somehow walk by himself.

He said, “My friends had to piggy back me to hospital before receiving the therapy. I have taken a lot of medicines prescribed from JDWNRH but the pain remained the same. However, after receiving the therapy I feel like I am being cured. I have no pain now and I am doing physiotherapy everyday to make my muscle work as usual. I am receiving the therapy for three weeks now.”

Karma Galay said that he has been receiving acupuncture therapy for the past two years (on and off) realizing how effective the therapy is. He said, “The moment I get any sports injury I come here. This is the best medicine when it comes to pain. We do not have to take oral medication. Few minutes after receiving the therapy, the pain subsides and this is how effective the therapy is.”

If anyone wants to avoid oral medication which may have side effect in the long run, this therapy would be the best, he added.

Many other patients receiving the therapy have shared how effective the therapy is and the choice they make between the acupuncture therapy and long term oral medication.

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