Scientific Basis of Acupuncture

  • B. Pomeranz


In this chapter we review 228 of modern scientific studies on acupuncture. As most research has focused on acupuncture analgesia (AA) this will be the major topic. Two main conclusions are drawn: first that AA is effective in treating chronic pain (working better than placebo), and second that the neurological mechanisms of AA are rapidly becoming apparent. We conclude that acupuncture activates small myelinated nerve fibres in the muscle, which send impulses to the spinal cord, and then activates three centres (spinal cord, midbrain and pituitary-hypothalamus) to cause analgesia. The spinal cord centre uses enkephalin and dynorphin to block incoming painful information. The midbrain centre uses enkephalin to activate the raphe descending system which inhibits spinal cord pain transmission using the monoamines (serotonin and norepinephrine). The third centre is the hypothalamus-pituitary, which releases beta endorphin into the blood and cerebrospinal fluid to cause analgesia at a distance. Thus all three endorphins (enkephalin, beta endorphin, and dynorphin) have a role in AA, and two monamines (serotonin and norepinephrine) are also involved. When high frequency low intensity stimulation is used a non-endorphin type of analgesia occurs. Unfortunately, much less research has been done into the other claims made in addition for acupuncture, and these will be given less coverage (Sects. 1.3 and 1.4). Finally, the specificity of acupuncture points will be discussed in Section 1.5.


Spinal Cord Acupuncture Point Sham Acupuncture Skin Resistance Acupuncture Analgesia 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1987

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  • B. Pomeranz

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