Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have captured pictures of the brain while patients experienced a pain stimulus with and without acupuncture to determine acupuncture’s effect on how the brain processes pain.
The results? Acupuncture alters the way that the brain perceives and processes pain.
German researchers measured brain activity in 18 people who received painful electrical currents from a device fitted to their left ankle. The researchers then placed acupuncture needles on the participants’ right side — including between the toes, below the knee and near the thumb — and again inflicted pain in the left ankle.
Without acupuncture, there was major activation of pain-processing areas of the brain. Activation in these areas was significantly reduced when the volunteers received acupuncture.
The researchers also found that acupuncture reduced activation in areas of the brain that control expectations of pain.