Acupuncture has long been used successfully in pain therapy, for example for back pain. Researchers from Essen University Hospital have now used functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate the effects of acupuncture on the processing of pain in the brain in an imaging process for the first time.
The scientists at the University Hospital Essen have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visualize those parts of the brain that are activated in pain. To do this, they applied a painful electrical current to the 18 healthy adults participating in the study via an electrode on the left ankle and used the fMRI to visualize the reaction of the brain. The experiment was then repeated, but the study participants were treated with acupuncture needles before the pain stimulus to reduce the sensation of pain. So the scientists around Dr. Nina Theysohn from Essen University Hospital took various pictures of the brain's reaction, which they were able to compare after the experiments. Before and after the pain impulses, fMRI images were taken of the brain that showed which regions of the brain were activated by the pain stimulus. The comparison of the pictures showed the differences in pain perception without and with previous acupuncture.
The comparison made possible on the basis of the fMRI, according to Dr. Nina Theysohn from the Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance in Essen that acupuncture significantly reduced or modulated the sensation of pain in different wards. As expected, various sections of the pain pathways and pain processing were activated by the pain stimulus in the brain, but after acupuncture the activation of the brain areas involved in pain perception had been significantly reduced or changed. In addition, other areas of the brain were addressed by the acupuncture needles, which also influenced the processing of pain stimuli, explained Dr. Nina Theysohn. The perception and processing of pain in the brain is obviously influenced by acupuncture, according to the study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
In the study, the participants were contralateral, i. H. Acupuncture on opposite sides of the body (to separate the effects of pain and needlestick sensation), at three acupuncture points between the toes, below the knee and near the thumb (LI10, LV3 and ST36). In the course of the subsequent evaluation of the fMRI images, all participants showed a similar reduction in activation in the corresponding brain areas and an additional activation of other brain sections. In most cases, an unspecific effect that could indicate a placebo effect can be ruled out because the recordings also showed specific effects of acupuncture that could not be attributed to the expectations of the participants, explained Dr. Nina Theysohn at the presentation of the study results. In pain therapy, the current findings could mean a further breakthrough for acupuncture, since they clearly demonstrate that appropriate treatment reduces pain perception. (fp)
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