Thursday, March 09, 2017
A new study that tracked brain and nerve changes refutes a commonly repeated claim that acupuncture's effectiveness is the result of a placebo effect.
The March 2 study published in Brain, a neurology journal, used true acupuncture along with sham acupuncture and fake needles as a placebo to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. During the procedures, researchers tracked brain and nervous system changes using a MRI. The study included researchers from Harvard University.
National University's, assistant dean of acupuncture and oriental medicine, Zhanxiang Wang, MD (China), PhD, LAc, praised the new research. "This study is unique because it used fake needles on the body in the placebo group, allowing the researchers to show truly objective results," he said.
In the true acupuncture groups, thin, sterile needles were inserted into strategic points on the body that lie along specific energy meridian pathways. Acupuncture's goal is to promote healing through rebalancing the patient's Qi (or chi) energy. The weakness, excess, or imbalance of Qi affects key organ systems and is the underlying cause of disease and disharmony.
While all groups experienced pain relief, only the true acupuncture groups involved in the study showed measurable physiological improvements in pain centers in the brain and nerves, while sham acupuncture did not show the same changes. They also found the changes lasted three months longer for true acupuncture groups.
In a New York Times article, Vitaly Napadow, a Harvard researcher involved in the study, recommended acupuncture as a non-invasive first-line approach for pain before more invasive procedures like surgery.
Along with pain from carpel tunnel syndrome, acupuncture can also be used to treat low back pain, as now recommended by the American College of Physicians, along with chronic pain conditions. "Acupuncture can be superior to many other types of pain relief particularly prescription drugs," said Dr. Wang. "This type of treatment has few side-effects and for those on other medications, there's no concern over adverse drug reactions. "
National University interns have used acupuncture to provide pain relief at Cook County's John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital since 2012. Initially, NUHS interns were scheduled to provide acupuncture for approximately 50 patients once a week. Due to demand, that number has almost doubled to about 100 patients per week.
The March study in Brain lends further evidence to acupuncture's effectiveness in relieving pain. Other recent studies have found similar results including a study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, which found that acupuncture could actually be a more effective method of pain relief than morphine.
To read more about the various benefits and uses of acupuncture read National University's blog post: Exposing the Hidden Values of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.