How Acupuncture Works for Acute and Chronic Pain

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  • Draw clinically relevant lessons from the research, such as

    • The need for adequate frequency and duration of treatment sessions to achieve lasting neuromodulation.

    • That acupuncture appears to be at least as effective as IV Morphine in treating acute pain.

    • That there is a small number of people who are non-responders to acupuncture analgesia (AA) who need to be referred to other therapies.

  • Communicate more effectively with patients, other health practitioners and the community at large when asked that question – “So how does acupuncture work?”

  • Overview of the acupuncture analgesia research.


“So how does acupuncture work?”

Acupuncture has been found to be effective for numerous types of acute and chronic pain. One of the striking characteristics of acupuncture’s effects on chronic pain is the longevity of the effects, with chronic pain patients 12 months after the last acupuncture session experiencing 85 -90% of the pain relief they felt on the day of their last treatment. This appears to be associated with lasting modulation of the peripheral and central nervous system – neuroplasticity.

This course provides acupuncturists with an overview of the acupuncture analgesia research to enable them to communicate more effectively with patients, other health practitioners and the community at large when asked that question – “So how does acupuncture work?”

Research on the physiological mechanisms underpinning acupuncture’s analgesic effects began with investigation of the neurological pathways taken by the acupuncture-induced signal. Carried principally on Aδ and C sensory fibres the acupuncture signal from the acupuncture point was found to ascend to the brain and brain stem where a complex series of interactions between nuclei dubbed the “mesolimbic loop of acupuncture analgesia” occurred followed by a descending signal to the dorsal horn of the spine, activating the Pain Gate. With the discovery that the body produces its own endogenous opioids, attention turned next to exploring the various categories of endogenous opioids – enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins and endomorphins. Dozens of non-opioid mediators were also identified as participating in acupuncture analgesia (AA), some acting to enhance AA, some to inhibit AA, and others to selectively enhance or inhibit. As well as further research on both opioid and non-opioid mediators, researchers have more recently turned their attention to identifying the receptor interactions and signalling pathways involved in AA. Adenosine activating adenosine receptors at the needling site has been found to be essential for AA.

The types of pain for which research has found acupuncture to be effective include inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain, musculoskeletal pain, headaches and migraines, gynaecological/obstetric pain, post-surgical pain and some types of cancer-related pain.

Provider - TCM Academy 

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