Acupuncture has long been known to have beneficial effects on individuals with chronic pain, frequently seen with conditions such as sciatica, back pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, and migraines.
In one systematic review conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine in 2012 (Acupuncture for Chronic Pain), the researchers found that the acupuncture control group reported much lower pain scores compared to the sham acupuncture group. Since there were such significant differences between the true and sham acupuncture groups, this study concluded that acupuncture is much more than a placebo, and effective in relieving chronic pain. In addition, acupuncture is also known to have analgesic effects.
Acupuncture is a medicine that dates back thousands of years, and it appears that we are still trying to get a grasp on how it works, scientifically speaking.
Here are two of the pain theories on how acupuncture works:
1. Most people believe that the positive effects of acupuncture are caused by the release of those powerful, feel-good chemicals called endorphins that are in fact so strong, act similar to morphine on the body and brain.
The needle insertion is said to actually stimulate the release of endorphins, making the individual feel good, happy, and therefore relieve pain. The Western theory of acupuncture also proposes (citing Pomeranz’s Theory) that these neurotransmitters travel to the muscles, to the mid brain, to the spinal cord, and during this pathway release several neurotransmitters such as dynorphin and enkephalins when the needling occurs ultimately block the pain perception in the brain.
2. Another very interesting theory is “Gate Control Theory” which was proposed in the 1960’s by Melzack and Wall. There are two types of nerve fibers, small and large. Melzach and Wall’s theory suggests that pain is transmitted through the small nerve fibers, and the large nerve fibers work to prevent the pain by transmitting inhibitory signals which control the pain gates, so to speak, preventing the pain signal from being sent by the small nerve fibers.
How does acupuncture come into play in this theory? The researchers concluded that the acupuncture needles are inserted in specific positions that activate the large nerve fibers to prevent the smaller nerve fibers from transmitting pain signals. For more information on this theory, check out Pain Mechanisms: A New Theory by Ronald Melzack and Patrick D. Wall.
We recommend all licensed acupuncturists explore acupuncture for pain management through continuing education learning opportunities such as distance learning reading material, webinars, or seminars. Keeping up to date with the research behind acupuncture for pain management is vital as it has become a very prevalent condition in our industry.
For more information on Acupuncture for Joint and Back Pain specifically, please take a look at our NCCAOM and Florida Board of Acupuncture approved courses on the ACE – Acupuncture Continuing Education website at https://acupuncturecontinuingeducation.com/. More classes coming soon for acupuncture and the treatment of Sciatica Pain.
Thanks for reading!