A recent German study performed by the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Duisburg-Essen documented the effect of Acupuncture on the brain. An MRI captured pictures of the brain while patients experienced a pain stimulus with and without acupuncture treatment.
The patients first received a pain stimulus attached to the left ankle while undergoing an MRI. The patients then received acupuncture on points between the toes, below the knees and near the thumb. These locations are traditionally used by acupuncturists to relieve pain in other parts of the body. With the acupuncture needles still in place, the patients received the pain stimulus on the ankle and underwent a MRI.
The researchers then compared the images and data from the MRI of the patients' brain response to pain stimulus with and without acupuncture.
It was found that the “activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture.”
With acupuncture, there was a reduction of brain activity in the contralateral supplementary motor area, somatosensory cortex, precuneus bilateral insula and ipsilateral somatomotor cortex. These pain processing areas of the brain were activated during pain stimulus without acupuncture.
Also, acupuncture effected brain activation on parts of the brain that govern the patients' expectation of pain. This is similar to the effects of placebo pain analgesia.
The results of this study show that acupuncture effects pain by reducing the pain activation areas of the brain. These effects are seen at: 1) areas of the brain that responds to incoming pain signals and 2) areas of the brain that control the expectation of pain.
N Theysohn, KE Choi, E Gizewski, T Rampp, G Dobos, M Forsting, F Musial. Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Influence of Acupuncture on Pain Modulation during Electrical Stimulation: An fMRI Study.