Acupuncture changes brain's perception and processing of pain

Nov 30, 2010

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have captured pictures of the brain while patients experienced a pain stimulus with and without acupuncture to determine acupuncture's effect on how the brain processes pain. Results of the study, which the researchers say suggest the effectiveness of acupuncture, were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"Until now, the role of acupuncture in the perception and processing of pain has been controversial," said lead researcher Nina Theysohn, M.D., from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital in Essen, Germany. "Functional MRI gives us the opportunity to directly observe areas of the that are activated during and see the variances that occur with acupuncture."

fMRI measures the tiny that take place in an active part of the brain, while a patient performs a task or is exposed to a specific external stimulus.

In the study, conducted in close collaboration with the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at University of Duisburg-Essen, 18 healthy volunteers underwent fMRI while an electrical pain stimulus was attached to the left ankle. Acupuncture needles were then placed at three places on the right side, including between the toes, below the knee, and near the thumb. With the needles in place, fMRI was repeated while electrical currents were again directed at the left ankle. The researchers then compared the images and data obtained from the fMRI sessions with no acupuncture to those of the fMRI sessions with acupuncture.

"Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture," Dr. Theysohn said.

Specifically, fMRI revealed significant activation in the contralateral supplementary motor area, somatosensory cortex, precuneus bilateral insula and ipsilateral somatomotor cortex during electrical pain stimulation without acupuncture. During acupuncture, activation in most of these pain-processing areas of the brain was significantly reduced.

According to Dr. Theysohn, in addition to the assumed specific effects on the pain signal, acupuncture also affected brain activation in areas governing the patients' expectations of pain, similar to a placebo analgesic response.

The anterior insula, for example, plays a role in transforming pain sensation to cognition and represents a subjective component of pain sensation. The reduction in activation of the primary somatosensory cortex and the insula during acupuncture indicates an acupuncture-induced modulation of the sensory encoding of the painful stimulus.

"Acupuncture is supposed to act through at least two mechanisms—nonspecific expectancy-based effects and specific modulation of the incoming pain signal," Dr. Theysohn said. "Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that can help relieve ."

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User comments : 9

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Skepticus
1 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2010
Acupuncture is bullshit science and not proven by resesearches and peer reviews. Let's just say it is "controversial and unproven" and leave it as that. Any new researches should always be given a hanging shadow of doubts on methodology and conclusions on results. Hipocratic oaths does not say anything about stabbing opponnents on the back to maintain and consolidate your standing, does it? All it says is you try to save lives at the best of your abilities and knowledge, never specified the imperative to improve/turn upside down your hard-earn abilities or knowledge. After all it's just a bloody body repair jobs, and Hipocrates is dead a long time ago. Mansions and yatch payments are more relevant. You wouldn't want the neighbours to see you living ordinarily, would you? The image of live's savers has to be kept, the high living must be shown, otherwise the poor patients thinks you are no good!
nsj
3.5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2010
Obviously Skepicus has never tried acupuncture. People with pain that have not received cure or even relief from doctors will try anything. Once they do try acupuncture they are amazed at the results. I highly recommend at least giving it a try. Especially if you have pain that "traditional" methods have not given acceptable relief. My experience is it is painless, reasonable and often provides immediate improvement. Even if you are not in pain it can remove stress like you won't believe. I feel so rested and relaxed after a visit.
Alburton
not rated yet Nov 30, 2010
Skepticus,at least admit these are interesting data.
Justavian
not rated yet Nov 30, 2010
Most skeptics will have a problem with acupuncture because of the claims, not because of the results. The issue is that acupuncture is tied to all these mythological and magical concepts like chi. If acupuncture works as something more than a placebo, it's worth studying. But when we start taking a deeper look at the mechanism, i bet it will *not* be via some magical energy field.
Lidia
4 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2010
when we start taking a deeper look at the mechanism, i bet it will *not* be via some magical energy field.

Justavian, the nervous system is electrical, and as such is very much a magical energy field.

Just because 'chi' is a word used by a culture other than your own to describe an existing phenomenon doesn't make that phenomenon "mythological".
Musashi
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
Lidia, there is nothing magical about electricity, unless you define "magical" broadly enough to make the word useless.
PJK
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010

Justavian, the nervous system is electrical, and as such is very much a magical energy field.


Not so. It can be satifactorily described in terms of classical electrodynamics, so is not "magical" in any sense of the word.

As to the story itself, as far as I can tell this research hasn't been published in a credible peer-reviewed journal.
Ignoring that and considering the research on it's own merit, I don't believe they've demonstrated that what they measured is anything more than placebo effect.
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that acupuncture can help relieve pain.
No crap, Harry?! Would have been easier to ask them! After all, it's about how much you feel pain, right?

On an entirely other note, it would be nice to figure out a way to differentiate between the placebo effect and any other effect. But then, how do you administer a placebo acupuncture?
Skepticus
1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
ha ha people couldn't see the sarcasm in my post! I can write a book about what I understand of Chi and acupuncture, but the Western Medicos will lynch me...!