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An Article About how Acupuncture treats pain

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A new study lends support to the notion that acupuncture may actually modulate the brain's perception of pain. In a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track brain activity both before and during acupuncture, researchers led by Dr. Nina Theysohn at the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, and colleagues at University of Duisburg-Essen documented a specific pattern of brain activation during acupuncture that may represent an accessible pathway for addressing pain.


In the small trial, which involved 18 volunteers, each volunteer was placed in the fMRI scanner and then given a small electrical stimulus in the left ankle to generate pain. Acupuncture needles were then inserted at three places on the right side corresponding to regions known to modulate the ankle pain, and the fMRI was repeated. Comparing the brain scans before and after acupuncture, the scientists found that areas of the brain that were active during the pain stimulus were dampened during acupuncture, suggesting that the needles actually do cause a change in the way that the brain perceives and processes pain.


“This study helps to clarify the brain's function in terms of how or where it processes pain and where that processing can be modified by the application of acupuncture intervention,” says Dr. Michael Brant-Zawadzki, an adjunct professor of radiology at Stanford University, commenting on the study.



What's most exciting, says Brant-Zawadzki, is that the brain regions identified in the fMRI scans may lead researchers to find a more standardized approach to treating pain that may help more sufferers. “If we could find one part of the brain that modulates the pain response in the vast majority of individuals, we could address pain through acupuncture or drugs or even sham acupuncture,” he says, “and we would have a better approach to the pain conundrum than we currently have.”