Although some people choose pharmacological painkillers, which may have serious side effects, new research is making headway towards understanding the mechanisms behind acupuncture and its impact on the treatment of pain.
The work conducted at the University of Michigan showed that the technique, practiced as part of Chinese traditional medicine for thousands of years, increases the binding availability of mu-opoid receptors in regions of the brain that process pain signals, including thalamus and amygdala.
To arrive at their conclusions, the scientists applied brain imaging to 20 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, and experienced pain at least 50 percent of the time. The participants underwent the scans during the first acupuncture treatment and after the eighth treatment a month later.
Dr. Richard E. Harris, researcher at the U-M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and a research assistant professor of anesthesiology at the U-M Medical School, confirms that the increased binding availability of these receptors was associated with a reduction in pain.
Recent studies have extensively documented the benefits of acupuncture in treating or relieving a range of conditions, including pregnancy-related heartburn and chemotherapy-induced dry mouth.