A study known as the New Jersey study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of pain acupuncture or the benefits of acupuncture for pain. The study showed encouraging results where twelve patients were monitored using the functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. This technology revealed parts of the brain that received increased blood flow. An increased blood flow to different parts of the brain indicated that those areas were being stimulated.
The patients were subjected to pain in a form of a small prick inside or outside their upper lip. The fMRI showed that all 12 patients reacted to the pain stimulus since there was an increased blood flow to their parietal areas and brain stems.
At the same time with being pricked with the filament, seven patients received the traditional acupuncture at the Hegu point, an acupoint that is located between the forefinger and thumb. The rest of the five patients received electroacupunture Hegu point with the use of low-level electrical current that travels through the needle.
During 30 minutes of the treatment process, each patient were asked to rate the pain level on a scale of one to 10 every five minutes while the fMRI was continually monitoring their brains. Four out of the seven patients who received traditional acupuncture showed considerably decreased levels of brain activity associated with pain in their fMRI.
The response was even greater with those patients who were receiving electroacupunture. Five patients who were receiving electrical stimulation showed a decrease in their pain-related brain activity. Plus these patients showed a much higher tolerance to pain than those patients receiving the traditional acupuncture treatment.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Huey-Jen Lee said, “We could see the brain activity associated with the pain subsiding even as the patients reported they were experiencing relief.” He also added that the increase tolerance to pain was not due to placebo effect since the MRI since showed different brain activity. “The brain actually shows differences and that is convincing,” Lee said.
The results were favorable to those who have been looking for proof that acupuncture really works. But as a precaution, it is wise not to jump to conclusions since the study is still premature and they are still gathering more data to support this.
Together with his team, Dr. Lee is foreseeing to conduct more studies in the future to determine if acupuncture can help relieve chronic pain in cancer patients. Although a lot of researchers are reasonable enough to think that acupuncture may not be the solution to chronic pain but at least the study can eventually help in reducing the dosage of certain pain medications and NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This way, drug side-effects can be lessened or even avoided.
Dr. Lee concluded, “It is important for Western medicine to recognize that these acupoints really mean something in regard to pain relief. So many people with pain, whether from cancer, headache or a chronic, unexplained condition, rely on medications such as morphine, which can become addicting. Acupuncture as no side effects and other studies have shown the pain relief it provides can last for months.”