MRI Shows That Acupuncture Treatments Reduce Pain

| October 1, 2012 | 0 Comments | 34 views

Dec. 1, 1999 (Chicago) -- Sticking an acupuncture needle into a point in thehand greatly diminishes the amount of brain activity associated with painimpulses, doctors report at the 85th Annual Meeting of the Radiological Societyof North America.

In a series of experiments, researchers tell WebMD, the proper placement ofthe fine acupuncture needle in the area between the thumb and forefinger,called the Hegu point, allowed subjects to tolerate greater amounts of pain.And pictures of the brain before and after acupuncture treatment show dramaticdecreases in brain activity -- up to 70%.

"It is important for Western medicine to recognize that these acupointsreally mean something in regard to pain relief," says Huey-Jen Lee, MD,associate professor of clinical radiology and director of neuroradiology at theUniversity of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. Acupoints arecertain points on the body that, when pressed or punctured, have beneficialeffects for certain ailments.

Lee reported on studies in which healthy subjects, men and women between theages of 25 and 54, received pain stimuli while they were undergoing magneticresonance imaging (MRI). The simultaneous procedures allowed doctors to viewhow and where brain activity occurred without acupuncture and duringacupuncture treatments.

When the experiments were repeated after insertion of the acupuncture needleat the commonly used Hegu point, pain levels as seen with the MRI weredecreased. Of 12 subjects who underwent the procedure, nine experienced painrelief.

"The data is pretty impressive," Elvira Lang, MD, associateprofessor of radiology and medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, tellsWebMD. She says the MRI pictures clearly show a reduction in pain activation."This shows there really is something going on here." Lee says thatbecause the MRI definitively shows brain activity, it was likely the increasedtolerance to pain was real and not just an artifact of treatment, known as aplacebo effect.

"The brain actually shows differences," Lee says, "and that isconvincing."

Wen-Ching Liu, PhD, a co-author of the study, says, "We found activitysubsided in 60-70% of the entire brain."

The use of acupuncture for pain relief is gaining acceptance in the U.S.,Lee says. "So many people with pain, whether from cancer, headache, or achronic, unexplained condition, rely on medications, such as morphine, whichcan become addicting. Acupuncture has no side effects, and other studies haveshown the pain relief it provides can last for months." Liu said there aremore than 400 commonly used acupuncture points, or acupoints, on the body,although other practitioners of acupuncture will sometime cite more than 1,000points.

Lee noted that the FDA has removed the acupuncture needle from its list ofexperimental devices and now considers it as an accepted medical device.

The study, Lee says, shows that "using a new technology can help usunderstand how this 2,500-year-old technique works. We still need more tests tounderstand this. Right now, we still really don't know how this works."

Vital Information:

When patients are stimulated with acupuncture at a point between the thumband forefinger, they are able to tolerate greater amounts of pain. Imaging of the brain shows a decrease in activity in the areas thatregulate pain while acupuncture is performed. Acupuncture has no side effects, and the acupuncture needle is approved bythe FDA as a medical device.

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