An understanding of how acupuncture really works to treat chronic pain is the focal point of a new study published in Brain journal. In order to answer key questions surrounding the mechanism of acupuncture, a team of investigators based at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a neuroimaging study to see how sham-controlled acupuncture affects carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Vitaly Napadow, PhD, director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging at the Martinos Center and senior author of the paper, said: A large body of clinical research exploring acupuncture for chronic pain disorders has demonstrated that it may be marginally better than a placebo procedure in reducing pain ratings. But questions still remain: How exactly does acupuncture work? Is it any better at improving objective outcomes for chronic pain?”
The goal for this paper was to utilize electro-acupuncture in order to map any changes in the brain. The group employed three sets of participants, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) before and after three months of treatments to gauge response. One set of participants received electro-acupuncture at the affected hand, another received electro-acupuncture at the ankle opposite the affected hand, and the other received sham electro-acupuncture with placebo needles near the affected hand.
Positive results were noted by patients in both types – sham and real – however, the only physiologic differences were in real acupuncture. This bolsters existing proof that acupuncture has a true, lasting effect on health. It proves that real acupuncture techniques have the ability to alter peripheral blood flow and nerve activity, in addition to changing the nerve signal patterns from the central nervous system. While the authors note that further studies are warranted to explore how non-pharmaceutical methods like acupuncture can help chronic pain sufferers, this is nevertheless a step in the right direction for integrating western and eastern treatment modalities.
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