Acupuncture affects the brain for pain

February 28, 2012

Acupuncture, Fibromyalgia, Healing, Pain

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center has provided evidence about how acupuncture affects the brain’s long-term ability to regulate pain.

by Kim Blankenship — 

It is well known that acupuncture relieves pain. The practice has been utilized for this purpose for thousands of years in Asia and for the last few decades here in the United States. But just exactly how acupuncture works so effectively has been a mystery — until now.

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center has provided evidence about how acupuncture affects the brain’s long-term ability to regulate pain. Researchers used brain imaging to determine that acupuncture increases the binding availability of mu-opioid receptors (MOR) in the thalamus, amygdala, cingulate, caudate and insula. These are all key regions of the brain that process and suppress pain signals.

Morphine, codeine and other opioid painkillers are believed to function by binding to the MOR in the brain and spinal cord. According to Richard E. Harris, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the university study, “The increased binding availability of these receptors was associated with reductions in pain.”

The study examined 20 female patients who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for at least one year and were experiencing pain at least 50 percent of the time. Each underwent PET (position emission tomography) scans during the first acupuncture treatment, which were repeated following the eighth treatment one month later. The patients also all agreed not to take any new medications for pain during the study period.

These results suggest that chronic pain patients who utilize acupuncture may be more responsive to opioid medications due to the seemingly increased binding availability of the receptors. Of course, acupuncture has been recognized as an effective method of pain relief since before Western pain relief drugs were formulated. This valuable study clearly illuminates acupuncture’s analgesic function.

 

Kim Blankenship, M.S.O.M., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist who practices at Jade Spirit Community Acupuncture in Phoenix. He founded Arizona’s first Community Acupuncture clinic in order to make acupuncture affordable and accessible to many people. 602-957-3675 or www.jadespirit.info.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  5, Oct/Nov 2009.

 

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