Acupuncture has become a popular alternative treatment for chronic pain. It’s a traditional Chinese practice dating back over 3,000 years ago. It was described by a European doctor, Ten Rhijne, in the 1600’s when he worked for the East India Company and first used in the U.S. in the 1950’s as a treatment for a variety of ailments.
- Muscle spasms
- Menopausal symptoms
- Irritable bowel disease
- and most commonly pain
In one study those who received acupuncture treatments reported significant knee pain relief and improved range of motion just 24 hours after a treatment. Four weeks of treatments lasted, in some cases, for up to four months.
The last forty years has seen an increased acceptance to the point it’s evolved into one of the most utilized forms of complementary integrative medicine interventions today. Studies have finally shown what patients knew all along, it’s works.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points that are connected by pathways or meridians which create an energy flow or Qi (“chee”). These are responsible for our overall health. When any one of them get disrupted disease or pain follows. By applying thin needles in the proper combination to one or more of the 361 points in the human body, energy flow and balance is restored and the resultant consequences of that disruption resolves.
One study suggests physical stimulation with needles in these sites positively impacts activity in multiple sensory neurons, increases blood flow and changes how pain is processed in the central nervous system and muscles. The exact mechanism for its benefits is still unclear but it may be due to central nervous stimulation that results in the release of chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain that stimulates the body’s natural healing abilities and endogenous pain killers.
Electroacupuncture appears to have an added benefit over traditional acupuncture in that here an electrode is attached to two needles in each meridian point and a small amount of electricity is through them. This allows for a quicker activation of the acupuncture sites and the ability to cover a wider area since the two needles can be as far apart as the head to the toes. One small study showed impressive results- patients reported a drop in continuous pain by up to 32.9% and intensity of pain drooped up to 59% after four biweekly sessions of electroacupuncture treatments. It also showed improved nerve conduction felicities on those suffering from neuropathic pain in the sessions at two-day intervals for 10-20 weeks.
Electroacupuncture works by:
- Releasing biochemicals such as endorphins and endocannabinoids that decrease sensitivity to pain.
- Decreasing inflammation by activating neuronal networks that turn off inflammation via the vagus nerve
- Activating the sympathetic nervous system
New studies show it may also help to release mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). These are adult stem cells found in the bone marrow that help the body heal by inducing different types of tissue repair. Through functional MRIs, gene sequencing, blood tests and circulatory imaging, researchers believe these cells may be responsible for a wide range of therapeutic benefits such as the release of proteins that diminish inflammation and release our own feel-good hormones like endorphins.
The hypothalamus controls the autonomic nervous system. Those involuntarily and reflexive acts that occur without conscious thought e.g. heart rate, breathing, digestion, and blood pressure. The amygdala is the brain’s emotional center. Researchers traced increased brain activity between the hypothalamus and the amygdala within 9-22 minutes after an electroacupuncture treatment. And within two hours mesenchymal stem cells or macrophages (the body’s immune cells that act like “pac-man” and eat up pathogens) were seen surging through the bloodstream depending on which meridian points were stimulated.
This adds to previous data that suggested acupuncture alone helped because it caused the release of neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, endorphins, endocannibinoids as well as immune mediated proteins and cytokinins to inflamed tissue. But the finding of mesenchymal stem cell activation adds an exciting new possibility for pain and other treatment options. Harnessing their power to regenerate and restore injured or damaged tissue could be an amazing therapeutic tool in the future.
Electroacupuncture has few side effects:
- Pain or slight bleeding at the needle site or bruising
- A drop in blood pressure
- Infection is rare since the needles are single use and sterilized
Don’t try it if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have a pacemaker
- Have had a stroke
- Have heart disease
Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new treatment program.
Look for a state licensed acupuncturist and make sure they offer elctroacupunture as well, not all do. You can search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine registry.
Some insurance plans cover this treatment so ask for specifics, including the cost and duration.
Acupuncture has been well studied and been shown to provide medical benefits in many types of underlying issues. Especially related to pain. We are just learning about the possible advantages of adding electricity to the regimen. But so far, the data shows encouraging results.
Some insurance plans cover this treatment so ask before you go the cost and duration recommended.
Acupuncture has been well studied and been shown to provide medical benefits in many types of underlying issues. Especially related to pain. We are just learning about the possible advantages of adding electricity to the regimen. But so far the data shows encouraging results.