Study Shows Effects of Acupuncture Aren't All in Your Head

A recent study in Germany supports the idea that acupuncture works directly on the brain to reduce the amount of pain we feel. It helps show that the effects of acupuncture are not just psychological after all.

The study, done by University Hospital in Essen, Germany, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track the brain activity before acupuncture (in the presence of pain) and during acupuncture.

Each volunteer was placed in the scanner and given a mild electrical shock in their ankle. Then, acupuncture needles were inserted in places known to help ankle pain, and the scan was repeated. When the scientists compared the scans, they found that the areas in the brain that were active during the painful stimulus were quieted when the acupuncture needles were inserted. The lead researcher, Dr. Nina Theysohn, said about the results, “Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture.”

This suggests that acupuncture does actually change how the brain processes pain, and that it isn’t just a placebo effect.

The study was small, and more studies are needed to prove exactly how acupuncture works. However, it provides food for thought for critics of acupuncture that claim the benefits are all in the mind.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, about 36% of U.S. adults have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which includes acupuncture. We last talked about acupuncture in August, when we covered a study that suggested it may be helpful for TMJ disorder symptoms.

Have you tried acupuncture for your jaw pain? Did it work?

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