One question that I am often asked by pleased and surprised patients is, “How does acupuncture work to reduce pain?” I find it easier to provide the explanation in terms of Chinese Medicine but I know that can frustrate people who want to understand its effectiveness in Western terms. Well, we may have a Western answer. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School and reported in Behavioural Brain Research (11/2008) explains how acupuncture reduces pain.
Scientists used a PET Scan (Positron emission tomography) with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain signals and pain receptors during an acupuncture analgesia treatment. Both the PET scan and the fMRI signals showed changes in several portions of the brain. They concluded that acupuncture changes the already existing brain opioids which are central to the experience of pain.
The entire study can be found in Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 193, Issue 1, November 2008, Pp. 63-68.