With the aid of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a specialized MRI that measures the hemodynamic response (change in blood flow) related to neural activity in the brain or spinal cord, researchers can now capture images of the brain during acupuncture.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), showing pictures from patients experiencing pain with and without acupuncture.
According to lead researcher Nina Theysohn, M.D., from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital in Essen, Germany: “Until now, the role of acupuncture in the perception and processing of pain has been controversial. 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.”
Eighteen healthy individuals volunteered for the study, undergoing fMRI with an electrical pain stimulus attached to the left ankle. At the same time, acupuncture needles were placed between the toes, below the knee, and by the thumb.
“Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture,” Dr. Theysohn said. “Acupuncture is supposed to act through at least two mechanisms-nonspecific expectancy-based effects and specific modulation of the incoming pain signal,” Dr. Theysohn said. “Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that acupuncture can help relieve pain.” [audio:http://hospitalstay.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/4-14-Im-Sticking-With-You.mp3|titles=I’m Sticking With You]
Additional information can be found at RSNA News.