Neuroscientists Study The Effects Of Acupunture And Give It A Nod

Credit: iStockphoto via Science DailyCredit: iStockphoto via Science Daily In acupuncture, the feeling of de qi is comparable to the sound of a sweet spot on a baseball bat or golf club. It's the nirvana of one whose pain has just been lifted.  It may be reached by inserting or jiggling a needle in the pressure point that corresponds with area affected by pain. For example, a needle in a point behind the knee may relieve pain in the lower back.

Western medicine has been late to incorporate acupuncture into its prescriptions for pain relief.  But a study undertaken by neuroscientists at the University of York and the Hull York Medical School in Great Britain, may help to change some attitudes of medical professionals in the West.

The investigation utilized the technology of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brain scans of subjects who experienced relief of back pain with subjects who experienced increased pain in response to "needling."  Subjective responses were also recorded from the group participants and compared to their scans.

The fMRIs showed the differences between pain activation in the brain and pain deactivation corresponding to the subjective experience of pain and de qi.

Dr Hugh MacPherson, of the Complementary Medicine Research Group in the University’s Department of Health Sciences, says: “These results provide objective scientific evidence that acupuncture has specific effects within the brain which hopefully will lead to a better understanding of how acupuncture works."

In response to this research, the British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published guidelines for doctors stating that they should "consider offering a course of acupuncture comprising a maximum of 10 sessions of a period of up to 12 weeks" for patients with lower back pain.

While this study focused on patients with back pain, current clinical trials are being planned for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and for depression.  Other studies in the U.S. show that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for migraines and osteoarthritis of the knee.


This study, Acupuncture needling sensation: The neural correlates of deqi using fMRI is published in Brain Research, February 22, 2010.  Reference: The University of York via Science Daily.


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