Acupuncture really does work against pain

Click to enlarge pictureMore than 3,000 years after it was first practiced, scientists say they have proof that acupuncture works. A study has found that the use of the needles stimulates a part of the brain involved in managing and dealing with pain and can have a similar effect to taking painkillers.

In the study, experts selected patients with osteoarthritis and monitored their brains to see how they reacted to acupuncture. Patients were randomly subjected to blunt needles that pricked only the surface, dummy needles in which the tip was pushed back once it touched the skin, and real acupuncture needles.

They found that the real needles stimulated a part of the brain called the ‘insula’, an area involved in controlling the intensity of pain, more than the placebo did, improving pain relief by up to 15 per cent. This demonstrates that real acupuncture produces a clear physiological effect over and above a simple skin prick. Acupuncture has been practiced in Far Eastern countries for thousands of years and works on the principle of improving the overall health of a patient rather than concentrating on specific symptoms.

Traditional Chinese philosophy is based on the theory that health is dependent on the good balance of ‘qi’ (life energy) and blood, and that when ‘qi’ and blood are blocked, it can cause pain. It is understood that acupuncture can help to adjust qi and blood, and therefore relieve pain. Acupuncture use fine needles which are inserted into the body’s energy channels to restore the balance. The treatment is becoming increasingly popular.

Cherie Blair wore an acupuncture needle in her ear at the 2001 Labour Party conference. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow is another fan. In the past five years research has found it can help relieve nausea, vomiting, back pain, toothache and migraine.

It has also been found to alleviate depression in pregnancy and reduce pain associated with arthritis of the knee by 40 per cent in eight weeks. Scientists point out that there will always be critics of this subject, but research like this substantiates claims by thousands of oriental doctors -that acupuncture works.