Scientific Study to demonstrate on way in which acupuncture works for pain relief.
This article demonstrates one of the many ways acupuncture makes functional changes in our bodies to elicit a beneficial effect, and in the case, reduction in pain. In this study, they needled acupoint Stomach 36, and noticed an “increased connection degree of the left temporal cortex within delta (0.5-4 Hz), beta (13-30 Hz) and gamma (30-48 Hz) bands following verum acupuncture.” They were actually observing functional changes in the body in response to the needle insertion.
“Moreover, we not only validated the closer linkage of the left temporal cortex with the prefrontal and frontal cortices, but further pinpointed that such patterns were more extensively distributed in the ST36 group in the delta and beta bands compared to the restriction only to the delta band for NAP. Psychophysical results for significant pain threshold elevation further confirmed the analgesic effect of acupuncture at ST36”
This is another great study to add to the vault of “how acupuncture works” as we find out more and more information regarding what the needles are triggering in our bodies based on where they are placed and how they are manipulated. Learning more about how it works will enable us to utilize it even better than we are now, and will gain more widespread acceptance from the medical and scientific communities.
So why the acupuncture point St 36?
According to Deadman, the actions of St 36, or ZUSANLI (Three Leg Miles) are:
-Harmonizes the Stomach
-Fortifies the Spleen and resolves dampness
-Supports the correct qi and fosters the original qi
-Tonifies qi and nourishes blood and yin
-Clears fire and calms the spirit
-Activates the channel and alleviates pain
-Revives the yang and restores consciousness
Now, we could spend a whole weekend on dissecting all of these individually, and according to Deadman, “Qin Cheng-zu of the Song dynasty declared that by using the point Zusanli ST-36 “all diseases can be treated”.” So, needless to say, it’s an important point, and one that is utilized by many acupuncturists on a very regular basis, but let’s just focus on “Activates Channel and Alleviates Pain” portion of this point.
This study is attempting to find the mechanism of how this works, and based on the empirical evidence, the theory is that it actually raises the nerve threshold in the brain that controls the feeling of pain. Let’s dissect that down a little bit. The nerves in our bodies need to build up enough of a signal to trigger a response, and how much or how little is required can be mediated within our brains. So basically the receiving end of the nerve signal (also known as an action potential) can be modified to require a stronger or weaker signal to elicit an effect (like pain). So they they that when acupoint stomach 36 is activated, it actually raises the threshold needed in the brain to signal a pain response, thereby we perceive less pain.
So why is this important? Isn’t JUST taking the pain away like a band-aid and it’s not actually fixing the injury or the problem? Well… Yes and no… First let’s explore the idea of it “JUST” taking the pain away and where this might be beneficial. Replacement of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs like opiates for pain. This is universal for any opiate or narcotic use. If we are using a medication just for pain relief, then why not use something that is more safe, has no side effects (except for maybe feeling more relaxed and healing faster, what a bummer of side effects those are!), is non-addictive, etc. etc. etc. … the list really just keeps going on. If we can effectively utilize acupuncture instead of a narcotic for a chronic condition, then why wouldn’t we? And using it for non-chronic issues can be incredibly beneficial as well, use post surgical pain management for example. Surgery hurts, plan and simple, so doctors use pain medications to reduce your pain while you are healing from surgery. This causes a lot of problems ranging from nausea and constipation to drug dependence… so, why not try acupuncture first? These are scenarios where utilizing the simple analgesic quality of acupuncture, like using stomach 36, can be incredibly helpful.
But we don’t have to stop there… we can always also utilize that point, and others, in ways that will stimulate reduction of inflammation, increase of circulation, and help healing to occur more quickly and more completely… but that’s for another article.. 😉
Bottom line, this is another great study that is helping us to understand how acupuncture is actually working on the body! I am a huge proponent of studies like this that allow us to explore how acupuncture works, as opposed to trying to fit acupuncture testing into the same clinical trial models as pharmaceutical drugs. There are just too many fundamental difficulties in studying acupuncture that way, which I talk about in this post.
Here’s access to the full study: