(Health Secrets) Acupuncture could be used as an effective form of pain relief, according to researchers at the University of Munich, Germany, who discovered that it could increase pain threshold by up to 50%.
It has long been believed that acupuncture, which has been practiced in China for over 2000 years, could provide pain relief, but this is one of the first scientific studies to document it. Although the study was carried out on healthy volunteers, it paves the way for further studies involving people experiencing chronic pain.
What does the study show?
The study which was published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia included 24 healthy volunteers, 12 male and 12 female, with an average age of 33.
The subjects were given three types of acupuncture: manual acupuncture, acupuncture with low-frequency electrical stimulation, and acupuncture with high-frequency electrical stimulation. There was at least a week between each treatment. Standard acupuncture points on the leg, including those relating to the spleen, stomach and gallbladder were used.
Quantitative sensory testing, or QST, was performed on each subject before and after every acupuncture session. This testing established the subject’s thresholds for various types of pain:
- heat pain thresholds
- pressure pain thresholds
- mechanical pain thresholds
Both the leg that had been treated with acupuncture and the leg that was untreated were tested. This was to see if pain relief from acupuncture works contralaterally, i.e. on the opposite side from the one treated.
The results of the study showed that pressure pain thresholds were increased by all types of acupuncture, heat pain thresholds were increased by manual acupuncture, and mechanical pain thresholds were significantly increased by acupuncture with low and high frequency electrical stimulation.
The increase in thresholds measured before and after treatment ranged from 25% to 52%. This was thought to be due to two types of nerve fibers, A delta pain fibers and C pain fibers, which are altered by acupuncture.
The study also indicated that the increase in pain thresholds applied both to the leg that was treated and the leg that wasn’t, meaning that acupuncture could be an effective source of pain relief even when the affected area can’t be treated, or is inaccessible because of a dressing.
Dr. Dominik Irnich, who led the study, stated that “contralateral stimulation leads to a remarkable pain relief. This suggests that acupuncturists should needle contralaterally if the affected side is too painful or not accessible, for example, if the skin is injured or there is a dressing in place.”
Other health benefits of acupuncture
Acupuncture is already used to effectively treat various types of pain, including lower back pain, migraine pain, joint pain, dental pain and post operative pain.
There are many other uses of acupuncture however, and it is often used to treat allergies such as hay fever and eczema, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, infertility, and menstrual disorders.
Acupuncture has been seen to slow the progress of other serious diseases, and to provide relief from the symptoms associated with them, even if it can’t provide a cure. Some of the conditions that respond well to acupuncture include:
- Heart disease
- Optic atrophy
- Parkinson’s disease
Acupuncture can also help with emotional or spiritual conditions such as grief, as each of the meridian lines that acupuncture points are located along are concerned with different emotional responses.
The limits of acupuncture
Acupuncture can only really benefit patients who choose to help themselves. It is less likely to help with heart disease in a patient who continues to smoke, to cure diabetes in a patient who still overeats processed carbohydrates, or relieve stress in a patient who still works a sixty hour week.
Acupuncture relies on a steady flow of Chi, or energy though the body. Age, stress, and illness deplete our energy supplies, so children respond more quickly to acupuncture than older people. Sometimes traditional Chinese herbs can be used to stimulate Chi and make acupuncture more effective.
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