7 January 2004
JENA – German scientists have awarded a clean bill of health to acupuncture, saying the traditional Chinese painkilling method works because it reduces the electrical impulses in the body that transmit pain.
Western doctors have often been sceptical about acupuncture, contending it only limits pain because patients are expecting that to happen. So Jena University anaesthesiologists knocked patients out cold with a general anaesthetic before using the acupuncture needles.
The study, released by the university in eastern Germany on Tuesday, used electrodes on the brain to measure pain signals.
All the 16 patients were subjected to mild pain, with half receiving acupuncture needles in the areas of the skin prescribed under traditional Chinese medicine.
“Acupuncture was able to muffle the pain stimuli, but not block them out altogether,” said Winfried Meissner, the principal author of the study. “This indicates that acupuncture is a demonstrably effective, but nevertheless relatively weak method of anaesthesia.”
The researchers plan to next study the use of acupuncture as a replacement for anaesthesia during surgery.
The Jena results largely match those of the world’s biggest inquiry into acupuncture, commissioned recently by German health insurers. That study found patients with arthritis of the knee really had less pain.
However acupuncture brought no greater relief to migraine and back pain patients than simply fooling the patients into thinking they were receiving the needles.
Medical science calls this a placebo effect: when patients believe in an improvement, it sometimes happens without any treatment.
Subject: German news