Acupuncture for Pain
1. Obstruction (blocked flow - due to injury, swelling, oversupply or engorgement of qi or blood)
2. Constraint (restrained flow - due to emotional, psychic, or mental constraint),
3. Deficiency (weak flow - due to deficiency of qi or blood)
Research on Acupuncture and Pain
There have been many studies supporting the fact that acupuncture is useful in the treatment of pain. Though most have not yet been translated from the Chinese, there have been several in the Western world.
One, at the University of Heidelberg, another at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The studies show that acupuncture works to relieve pain.
In the Heidelberg study, 52 athletes with shoulder pain were divided into a control group and an acupuncture group. Each group received eight 20-minute sessions over a four-week period. The acupuncturists who administered treatment were aware of the different treatments involved, but the subjects were not.
The acupuncture group received real acupuncture therapy. The control group was treated using a special "placebo-needle" which had a blunt tip which touched, but did not penetrate, the skin. Patients in the control group would feel the same pricking sensation.
Patients were rated using the modified Constant-Murley score, assigning points to the level of the subject's pain; their ability to perform daily activities; the painless range of motion in their shoulder; and the maximum amount of power in their shoulder. Following treatment, patients in the placebo group improved by an average of 8.37 points. The real acupuncture group improved an average of 19.2 points.
Based on these results, the authors concluded that "acupuncture with penetration of the skin is more effective than placing the needles on similar sites." However, the authors called for a larger, double-blinded study to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture.
In the New Jersey study, twelve patients were monitored using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), revealing what parts of the brain were being stimulated.
The patients were subjected to pain in the inside or outside of their upper lip. MRI showed that all 12 people reacted strongly to the pain stimulus.
Concurrently, seven subjects received traditional acupuncture at the Hegu point (LI4), an acu-points located between the thumb and forefinger. The remaining five subjects received electro-acupuncture at the same point, with a low-level electrical current being delivered through the needle.
During 30 minutes of treatment, the patients rated their pain level on a scale of one to 10 every five minutes, with the fMRI continually monitoring their brains. In four of the seven subjects who received traditional acupuncture (57%), the fMRI showed considerably decreased levels of brain activity associated with the pain.
"We found activity subsided in 60 to 70 percent of the entire brain," said Wen-Ching Liu, an assistant professor of radiology at UMDNJ and a co-author of the study.
The response was even greater among those who received electro-acupuncture. Pain-related brain activity decreased in all five patients who received electrical stimulation, and those subjects showed a greater tolerance to pain than those who received traditional acupuncture treatment.
"We could see the brain activity associated with the pain subsiding even as the patients reported they were experiencing relief," added Dr. Huey-Jen Lee, the study's lead author. Lee noted that since the MRI definitively showed different brain activity, it was highly likely the increased tolerance to pain was real and not a placebo effect.
"The brain actually shows differences," Lee said, "and that is convincing."
CHINESE HERBAL MEDICINES FOR PAIN