Acupuncture Affects How Brain Perceives Pain

By David Skoumbourdis
David Skoumbourdis
David Skoumbourdis
December 18, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Researchers from Germany have found that acupuncture is effective in altering how we perceive pain.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture images of healthy volunteers’ brains when they received electrical pain stimulation on the left ankle.

“Until now, the role of acupuncture in the perception and processing of pain has been controversial,” lead researcher Dr. Nina Theysohn of the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, said in a press release.

“Functional MRI gives us the opportunity to directly observe areas of the brain that are activated during pain perception and see the variances that occur with acupuncture.”

During the study, the volunteers first underwent fMRI while electrical pain stimulation was applied to their left ankles. Acupuncture needles were then placed on their right side between the toes, below the knee, and near the thumb, and the fMRI was conducted while the subjects were exposed to electrical currents again. The captured images and resultant data were then compared.

The fMRI specifically revealed a change in activity in the brain’s pain-processing areas during acupuncture. 

“Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture,” Theysohn said, according to the press release.

In addition to these findings, Theysohn also found that brain regions related to the expectation of pain were also affected.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).