Acupuncture shown to have benefits for treatment of some chronic pain
Published on 20 June 2017
Acupuncture is not a placebo for treatment of chronic pain. This NIHR-funded systematic review shows that acupuncture is better than usual care and sham acupuncture for pain from musculoskeletal conditions, knee osteoarthritis and chronic headache.
This NIHR review was large with over 140 trials overall, and the direct comparison with sham acupuncture helps to address uncertainty around whether acupuncture gives clinical benefit above a “placebo effect.” Acupuncture had a smaller effect on pain when compared with sham acupuncture than when compared with no acupuncture, but both comparisons showed statistically significant differences. Acupuncture also improved quality of life compared with standard care and was assessed to be a good use of NHS resources.
Acupuncture is currently recommended for the prevention of chronic headaches, but not for musculoskeletal pain or osteoarthritis pain. The findings may inform forthcoming guideline updates.
The availability of accredited acupuncturists varies across the UK. Though some are currently funded in NHS clinics, additional NHS funding for providers managing chronic pain conditions may be indicated.
Acupuncture for analgesia in the emergency department: a multicentre, randomised, equivalence and non-inferiority trial
Objectives: This study aimed to assess analgesia provided by acupuncture, alone or in combination with pharmacotherapy, to patients presenting to emergency departments with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprain.
Design: A pragmatic, multicentre, randomised, assessor-blinded, equivalence and non-inferiority trial of analgesia, comparing acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy, and pharmacotherapy alone for alleviating pain in the emergency department.
Setting, participants: Patients presenting to emergency departments in one of four tertiary hospitals in Melbourne with acute low back pain, migraine, or ankle sprain, and with a pain score on a 10-point verbal numerical rating scale (VNRS) of at least 4.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was pain at one hour (T1). Clinically relevant pain relief was defined as achieving a VNRS score below 4, and statistically relevant pain relief as a reduction in VNRS score of greater than 2 units.
Results: 1964 patients were assessed between January 2010 and December 2011; 528 patients with acute low back pain (270 patients), migraine (92) or ankle sprain (166) were randomised to acupuncture alone (177 patients), acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy (178) or pharmacotherapy alone (173). Equivalence and non-inferiority of treatment groups was found overall and for the low back pain and ankle sprain groups in both intention-to-treat and per protocol (PP) analyses, except in the PP equivalence testing of the ankle sprain group. 15.6% of patients had clinically relevant pain relief and 36.9% had statistically relevant pain relief at T1; there were no between-group differences.
Conclusion: The effectiveness of acupuncture in providing acute analgesia for patients with back pain and ankle sprain was comparable with that of pharmacotherapy. Acupuncture is a safe and acceptable form of analgesia, but none of the examined therapies provided optimal acute analgesia. More effective options are needed.
Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12609000989246.
“Quackery. Voodoo. Soft Science. These are just a few of the words I've heard people use to describe acupuncture.
During my training to become a physician, I was taught (maybe brainwashed) that the only real medicine is one that passes the test of double-blind trials and abides by the "standard of care."
But years of working with patients have showed me that these standards can sometimes fail to provide answers for certain ongoing health issues. I've seen acupuncture and other holistic healing modalities provide solutions.
It seems odd that inserting tiny needles into various points in the skin can be healing, but the principles behind acupuncture date back to ancient Chinese medicinal practice. You see, the body consists of 12 different energy channels, and each one has a unique point of increased electrical resistance. Acupuncture needles can help facilitate the movement of this energy.
Practitioners have used it to cure common medical conditions for thousands of years. They've developed acupuncture protocols that have been handed down through generations—slowly tweaked an perfected as they traveled across the globe.
No quackery here—just pure and simple healing.
Certain research has found that acupuncture actually lowers cortisol levels—the stress hormone that's ultimately responsible for the majority of illnesses today—in the body. As cortisol lowers, inflammation slowly reverses, unwinding the damage from a lifestyle of stress, irregular eating and poor sleep.
I recommend acupuncture to patients who are suffering migraines, hormone imbalances, and gastrointestinal issues, amount other painful conditions. I feel comfortable recommending the practice, because I've watched it work miracles in my own life.
Acupuncture, along with dietary changes and supplements, balanced my hormones and brought me to a better place of health. I experienced the tremendous healing powers of acupuncture and am confident in its role in solving the medical conditions of today. I love that acupuncture comes with minimal side effects and doesn't require additional medications.
After taking the time to understand acupuncture's complex history and implement the technique in my own health journey, I've found that the practice bridges the gap that stands between what modern science teaches us as physicians and what patients really experience.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are inherent parts of my medical practice, and I think they should become more ingrained in the medical model moving forward.
No quackery here—just pure and simple healing.”
-Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, board-certified physician and professor at Emory University
Qian-Qian Li, Guang-Xia Shi, Qian Xu, Jing Wang, Cun-Zhi Liu,* and Lin-Peng Wang
Acupuncture is a therapeutic technique and part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture has clinical efficacy on various autonomic nerve-related disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, anxiety and nervousness, circadian rhythm disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and subfertility. An increasing number of studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can control autonomic nerve system (ANS) functions including blood pressure, pupil size, skin conductance, skin temperature, muscle sympathetic nerve activities, heart rate and/or pulse rate, and heart rate variability. Emerging evidence indicates that acupuncture treatment not only activates distinct brain regions in different kinds of diseases caused by imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities, but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitter in related brain regions to alleviate autonomic response. This review focused on the central mechanism of acupuncture in modulating various autonomic responses, which might provide neurobiological foundations for acupuncture effects.
Acupuncture has been practiced for over 3000 years with beneficial clinical effects on many disorders . There is sufficient evidence of the value of acupuncture to expand its application into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiological and clinical values . According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), “acupuncture is believed to restore the balance between Yin and Yang.” This can be translated into the Western medicine terminology as “acupuncture modulates the imbalance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic activity .” Acupuncture has been effectively used in various autonomic nerve-related disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, anxiety and nervousness, circadian rhythm disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and subfertility [4–8]. It could influence some known indicators of autonomic activities, such as blood pressure [9–11], pupil size , skin conductance , skin temperature , muscle sympathetic nerve activities , heart rate and/or pulse rate , and heart rate variability [17, 18]. Acupuncture has been proposed to treat autonomic nerve-related diseases through modulating the imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities . Previous study has shown that changes in parasympathetic nervous activity are correlated with the amount of De-Qi (i.e., arrival of Qi) sensations during acupuncture manipulation . On the other hand, the affecting degree of acupuncture on the autonomic nerve is still unknown because part of the acupuncture effects is dependent on the De-Qi sensation .
A literature review was conducted using PubMed, EBSCOhost, and the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI). Keywords used in the searching were “acupuncture,” “brain” or “cerebrum” and “sympathetic,” “vagus,” “autonomic,” or “parasympathetic.” Articles were collected from December 2007 to present in each database. The identified 44 publications in this search were related to acupuncture basic study and central autonomic regulation. Among these 44 articles which met the criteria, 35 articles are in English and 9 articles are in Chinese. In this review, the underlying central mechanism of acupuncture-induced autonomic modulation is discussed based on basic studies that have been published in the past 5 years. We will, in particular, focus on two aspects as follows: (1) the brain region which plays an important role in initiating autonomic responses during acupuncture; (2) neurohumoral autonomic modulation of acupuncture in the central autonomic nerve system (ANS).
2. Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Structures
Several studies have demonstrated that the autonomic dimension of the acupuncture stimulation was mediated by a mesencephalic and brainstem network [22, 23] (Figure 1), which is comprised of the hypothalamus, medulla oblongata, ventrolateral periaqueductal gray, and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. All of these areas are involved in the autonomic regulation [24–26].
Acupuncture autonomic regulation mechanism. Blue indicates the area involved in acupuncture parasympathetic regulation. Orange indicates the area involved in acupuncture sympathetic regulation.
Hypothalamus is the most important brain center that controls the ANS . As the site of autonomic regulation, hypothalamus has been proved to be involved in the pathway of electroacupuncture (EA) attenuating sympathetic activity. Impulses generated in sensory fibres in the skin connect with interneurons to modulate activities of the motoneurons hypothalamus to change autonomic functions . Increased sympathetic activity in hypertension may act as a stimulus for nitric oxide (NO) release in the hypothalamus. EA application on ST36 could effectively modulate the activity and expression of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) in the hypothalamus of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). The effect may through its connections to sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and also through its control of endocrine organs . However, which part of the hypothalamus that participates in the mechanism of action is still remained unclear. Effects on decreased neuropeptide Y (NPY) production due to stimulation on the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of hypothalamus  is one of the several hypotheses which have been proposed in the literature regarding the action mechanism. The PVN of hypothalamus is a cell group that plays an important role in the regulation of sympathetic vasomotor tone and autonomic stress responses [31, 32]. Acupuncture could decrease NPY  and corticotropin-releasing hormone  expressions in the PVN and produce some specific effects on suppressing the sympathetic outflow in response to chronic stressors .
Arcuate (ARC) nucleus projects to other brain regions that regulate the sympathetic outflow include the dorsomedial hypothalamus, midbrain periaqueductal grey, rostral ventrolateral medulla (rVLM), and the nucleus of the solitary tract . Neurons in the ARC nucleus projecting to the rVLM potentially participate in EA inhibition of reflex cardiovascularsympathoexcitation . Ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) projections from the ARC are required for EA regulation of sympathoexcitatory presympathetic rVLM activity and the cardiovascular excitatory reflex responses, while a direct pathway between the ARC and rVLM might serve as a source of endorphins for EA cardiovascular modulation.
2.2. Medulla Oblongata
Specific regions of the medulla oblongata mediate central control of autonomic function. In the central nervous system (CNS), the rVLM is an important part of the sympathetic efferent limb of cardiovascular reflex activity and, as such, it is important in the maintenance of arterial blood pressure . It projects to the intermediolateral columns of the thoracic spinal cord, which is the origin of sympathetic preganglionic neurons . Inhibition of neuronal function in this nucleus results in large decreasing of blood pressure . EA could inhibit cardiovascular autonomic responses through modulating rVLM neurons [41, 42]. Moreover, opioids and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) participate in the long-term EA-related inhibition of sympathoexcitatory cardiovascular responses in the rVLM . Activation of the nucleus raphe pallidus (NRP) attenuates sympathoexcitatory cardiovascular reflexes through a mechanism involving serotonergic neurons and 5-HT1A receptors in the rVLM during EA. Serotonergic projections from the NRP to the rVLM contribute to the EA-cardiovascular responses .
The nucleus ambiguus (NAmb), located in the ventrolateral division of the hindbrain, is considered to be an important site of origin of preganglionic parasympathetic vagal motor neurons that ultimately regulate autonomic function through the releasing of acetylcholine . The recent study of that neurons colabeled with c-Fos and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) were activated in the EA-treated animals instead of sham EA group indicates that some NAmb neurons activated by EA are preganglionic vagal neurons . It is suggested that stimulation on a special acupoint is crucial to achieve modulate effect on autonomic function by activating NAmb neurons. It is consistent with TCM theory that genuine acupoints treatment is more effective than nonacupoints treatment based on specific physiological effects related to meridians and collections of meridian Qi.
Ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) is an essential midbrain nuclei that process information from somatic afferents during EA . Caudal vlPAG is a significant region in the long-loop arcuate-rVLM pathway for the EA-cardiovascular response, while the rostral vlPAG plays a major role in the reciprocal arcuate-vlPAG pathway that helps to prolong EA-cardiovascular modulation . Excitation of vlPAG neurons enhances the arcuate response to splanchnic stimulation, while blockade of vlPAG neurons limits excitation of arcuate neurons by EA. These observations indicate that EA-induced excitation of arcuate neurons requires input from the vlPAG, and the reciprocal reinforcement between the midbrain and the ventral hypothalamus serves to prolong the influence of EA on the baseline blood pressure .
2.4. Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (DMPFC)
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is vital for mediating behavioral and somatic responses to stress in the autonomic centers via projections . A near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) study found that the right PFC activity predominantly modulated sympathetic effects during a mental stress task . Acupuncture stimulation might decrease sympathetic activity and increase parasympathetic activity through its inhibitory effects on dorsomedial PFC activity . This might be beneficial to treat chronic pain induced by hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. However, Sakatani et al. found no significant correlation between the PFC activity and ANS function during acupuncture. One of the possible explanations of the poor correlations might be that the PFC activity induced by acupuncture is not closely linked with ANS function .
3. Acupuncture Effect and Neurohumoral Modulation
Some neurotransmitters, including serotonin, opioid peptides, catecholamines, and amino acids in the brain appear to be participated in the modulation mechanism of acupuncture for certain ANS [53, 54].
3.1. Endogenous Opioids
EA was able to restore the impaired gastric motility and dysrhythmic slow waves by enhancing vagal activity, which was mediated via the opioid pathway [55, 56]. Ameliorating effects of EA at ST-36 on gastric motility might activate the central opioids that, in turn, inhibit sympathetic outflow . Although acupuncture produced significant heart rate decreases in pentobarbital-anesthetized rats, this response is related to the activation of GABAergic neurons instead of opioid . This opinion is proved by another study, which indicates that an opioid receptor-mediated transmission is not responsible for the present bradycardiac response induced by acupuncture-like stimulation . These views suggest that acupuncture treatment on different diseases may be mediated by different neurotransmitters, which is in accordance with holistic view of acupuncture treatment in TCM theory.
EA activates enkephalinergic neurons in several brain areas that regulate sympathetic outflow, including the arcuate nucleus, rostral ventrolateral medulla, raphé nuclei, among others [60, 61]. Consistent with this, Li et al.  found that EA at P5-P6 transiently stimulates the production of enkephalin in a region of the brain, which regulates sympathetic outflow. It is suggested that a single brief acupuncture treatment can increase the expression of this modulatory neuropeptide. The β-endorphin is a key mediator of changes in autonomic functions . Acupuncture may hypothetically affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis by decreasing cortisol concentrations and the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis by modulating central β-endorphin production and secretion . Some reports have also shown that a negative perception of acupuncture might produce enhanced sympathetic activation to the acupuncture stimulus , which may be mediated through endorphin pathway . It is conceivable that a specific neuroendocrine-immune network is crucial to the produce of acupuncture therapeutic effect. Further studies are required to reveal involved molecules and underlying mechanisms.
3.2. Amino Acids
Amino acid sensors could regulate the activity of vagal afferent fibers . Amino acids are directly involved in signaling the vagus pathway in the ARC . Recent studies have shown that vesicular glutamate transporter 3 (VGLUT3) in the ARC neurons [69, 70] and vlPAG [60, 71] were activated by EA at the P5-P6 acupoints. Glutamate only partially but significantly contributes to the activation of ARC-vlPAG reciprocal pathways during EA stimulation of somatic afferents . In addition, reduction of GABA release disinhibits vlPAG cells, which, in turn, modulates the activity of rVLM neurons to attenuate the sympathoexcitatory reflex responses . EA modulates the sympathoexcitatory reflex responses by decreasing the release of GABA in the vlPAG , most likely through a presynaptic CB1 receptor mechanism . Studies conducted so far on amino acids suggest that glutamate and GABA are involved in the mechanism of acupuncture for autonomic alteration. This response is closely related to vlPAG.
3.3. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
The NGF is a neurotrophin, which regulates the function and survival of peripheral sensory, sympathetic, and forebrain cholinergic neurons. It could modulate sensory and autonomic activity as a mediator of acupuncture effects in the CNS . The therapeutic potential of EA could modulate the activity of the ANS by a long-lasting depression of the sympathetic branch, which is associated with a peripheral downregulation of NGF in organs. Mannerås et al.  found that EA could effectively improve PCOS-related metabolic disorders, alter sympathetic markers , and normalize the DHT-induced increase of mRNANGF. The data on EA/NGF interaction in PCOS models further suggested that the decrease of NGF expression in peripheral organs could benefit EA to modulate the activity of the ANS . Although NGF in organs has been proved to be associated with the acupuncture effect on ANS, there is a lack of sufficient evidence to demonstrate the relationship between acupuncture effect and NGF in central autonomic nerve system.
Emerging evidence indicates that acupuncture treatment not only activates distinct brain regions in different kinds of diseases caused by imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities, but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitter in related brain regions to alleviate autonomic response. However, it is not clear whether different pathway is activated by specific acupoint, such as local points and distant points, or the autonomic regulation effect of acupoints from different meridians. Further rigorous RCTs are required for the study of this topic. It enables us to understand the importance of acupuncture therapy in the autonomic regulation. Then, acupuncture can be used in the treatment of various autonomic disorders as a novel alternative therapy.
The study was funded by the New Century Excellent Talents in University (NCET-09-0007) and the Technology New Star Program of Beijing (2009B46).
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Tablets made from dried leaves of the Artemisia annua plant cured 18 critically ill patients in a Congo clinic. The results suggest a new and inexpensive treatment option for the mosquito-borne disease that affects 212 million people worldwide.
American College of Physicians recommendations include massage, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, tai chi, and yoga
Philadelphia, February 14, 2017 -- The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends in an evidence-based clinical practice guideline published today in Annals of Internal Medicinethat physicians and patients should treat acute or subacute low back pain with non-drug therapies such as superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation. If drug therapy is desired, physicians and patients should select nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or skeletal muscle relaxants.
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for all physician visits in the U.S. Most Americans have experienced low back pain. Approximately one quarter of U.S. adults reported having low back pain lasting at least one day in the past three months. Pain is categorized as acute (lasting less than four weeks), subacute (lasting four to 12 weeks, and chronic (lasting more than 12 weeks).
"Physicians should reassure their patients that acute and subacute low back pain usually improves over time regardless of treatment," said Nitin S. Damle, MD, MS, MACP, president, ACP. "Physicians should avoid prescribing unnecessary tests and costly and potentially harmful drugs, especially narcotics, for these patients."
The evidence showed that acetaminophen was not effective at improving pain outcomes versus placebo. Low-quality evidence showed that systemic steroids were not effective in treating acute or subacute low back pain.
For patients with chronic low back pain, ACP recommends that physicians and patients initially select non-drug therapy with exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi, yoga, motor control exercise (MCE), progressive relaxation, electromyography biofeedback, low level laser therapy, operant therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or spinal manipulation.
"For the treatment of chronic low back pain, physicians should select therapies that have the fewest harms and costs, since there were no clear comparative advantages for most treatments compared to one another," Dr. Damle said. "Physicians should remind their patients that any of the recommended physical therapies should be administered by providers with appropriate training."
For patients with chronic low back pain who have had an inadequate response to non-drug therapy, ACP recommends that physicians and patients consider treatment with NSAIDs as first line therapy; or tramadol or duloxetine as second line therapy. Physicians should only consider opioids as an option in patients who have failed the aforementioned treatments and only if the potential benefits outweigh the risks for individual patients and after a discussion of known risks and realistic benefits with patients.
"Physicians should consider opioids as a last option for treatment and only in patients who have failed other therapies, as they are associated with substantial harms, including the risk of addiction or accidental overdose," said Dr. Damle.
"Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain" is based on a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews published on noninvasive pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments of nonradicular low back pain. Clinical outcomes evaluated included reduction or elimination of low back pain, improvement in back-specific and overall function, improvement in health-related quality of life, reduction in work disability/return to work, global improvement, number of back pain episodes or time between episodes, patient satisfaction, and adverse effects.
The evidence was insufficient or lacking to determine treatments for radicular low back pain. The evidence also was insufficient for most physical modalities and for which patients are likely to benefit from which specific therapy. The guideline does not address topical therapies or epidural injection therapies.
ACP's clinical practice guidelines are developed through a rigorous process based on an extensive review of the highest quality evidence available, including randomized control trials and data from observational studies. ACP also identifies gaps in evidence and direction for future research through its guidelines development process.
ACP's previous recommendations for treating low back pain were published in "Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society" in 2007. Some evidence has changed since the 2007 guideline and supporting evidence reviews. The 2007 guideline did not assess mindfulness-based stress reduction, MCE, taping, or tai chi.
About the American College of Physicians
The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States. ACP members include 148,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.
Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.
"Colicky babies who received acupuncture in the new study appeared to cry less after treatment than those who didn't receive acupuncture, said Kajsa Landgren, a lecturer in the department of health sciences at Lunds University in Sweden."
Acupuncture Reverses Lower Back Pain
18 NOVEMBER 2016
Qi-guiding acupuncture relieves disc herniation pain and a special intensive silver acupuncture needle protocol relieves chronic lower back myofascial pain.
Researchers find acupuncture effective for the treatment of lower back pain disorders. In a protocolized study from the Shanghai Jiaotong University Sixth People’s Hospital, researchers determined that a special type of manual acupuncture therapy, known as qi-guiding acupuncture, produces significant positive patient outcomes for lumbar intervertebral disc herniation patients. In related research from Xinping Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, investigators find acupuncture combined with moxibustion effective for the alleviation of lower back pain due to lumbodorsal myofascial pain syndrome. A special application of silver acupuncture needles produced superior patient outcomes. Let’s start with a look at the Shanghai Jiaotang University research and then we’ll see how the silver needle protocol boosts treatment efficacy for the treatment of lower back pain.
Lower Back Needles
Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of lumbar intervertebral disc herniations. Wu et al. (Shanghai Jiaotong University Sixth People’s Hospital) investigated the treatment results of qi-guiding acupuncture with meridian differentiated acupoint selections and determined that it produces significant positive treatment outcomes for lumbar intervertebral disc herniation patients. Wu et al. also find electroacupuncture with meridian differentiated acupoint selections effective; however, qi-guiding acupuncture had a slightly higher rate of producing positive patient outcomes. Qi-guiding acupuncture had an 87.5% total treatment effective rate and electroacupuncture achieved an 86.6% total treatment effective rate. Qi-guiding acupuncture also had better outcomes for increases in nerve conduction velocity. The results are definitive given the large sample size of 549 patients with lumbar disc herniations evaluated in this study.
Lumbar disc herniation patients experience lower back pain and radiculopathy (radiating pain and numbness) as a result of anulus fibrosis damage, IVF encroachment, and other issues associated with disc damage (Hu et al.). Acupuncture, as one of the most common non-surgical treatment methods for lumbar disc herniation, has a high treatment effective rate and no significant adverse effects (Cheng).
Qi-guiding acupuncture was first documented in ancient literature, including The Systematic Classic of Acupuncture & Moxibustion by Huang-fu Mi. In qi-guiding acupuncture, needle entry and removal is controlled and slow. To direct qi upward, the acupuncture needle is oriented upward; similarly, to direct qi downward, the needle is pointed downward. Subsequently, the needle is frequently rotated, lifted, and thrust to regulate the flow of qi in the body. Additional manipulation techniques may be intermittently applied. In modern use, qi-guiding acupuncture repairs ultramicroscopic structures of damaged nerve roots and accelerates other aspects of nerve repair, thereby increasing nerve conduction.
In this study, lumbar disc herniation patients receiving qi-guiding acupuncture achieved an 87.5% total treatment effective rate. Patients receiving electroacupuncture achieved an 86.6% total treatment effective rate. Both qi-guiding acupuncture and electroacupuncture significantly increased nerve conduction velocity. Qi-guiding acupuncture had a slightly greater improvement in common peroneal nerve conduction velocity and superficial fibular nerve conduction velocity. Common peroneal nerve conduction velocity increased from 38.26 ± 12.8 to 44.75 ± 5.24 after the application of qi-guiding acupuncture, and increased from 39.11 ± 3.64 to 39.86 ± 10.95 after electroacupuncture. Superficial fibular nerve conduction velocity increased from 41.63 ± 4.37 to 42.55 ± 6.43 after the application of qi-guiding acupuncture, and increased from 40.71 ± 9.56 to 40.43 ± 4.01 after electroacupuncture.
A total of 549 patients with lumbar disc herniations were treated and evaluated in this study. These patients were diagnosed with lumbar disc herniations between December 2012 and March 2014. They were randomly divided into a treatment group and a control group, with 280 patients in the treatment group and 269 patients in the control group. The treatment group underwent qi-guiding acupuncture therapy, while the control group received electroacupuncture. Acupoint selection for both groups was based on meridian differentiation. Identical acupoints were selected for both patient groups.
For Taiyang meridian lumbago and leg pain (scelalgia):
For Yangming meridian lumbago and leg pain:
For Shaoyang meridian lumbago and leg pain:
For qi-guiding acupuncture, the following protocol was administered. Upon disinfection with 75% ethanol, a 0.30 mm x 40 mm filiform acupuncture needle was inserted into each selected acupoint. Huantiao and Juliao were needle to a depth of 2.5 inches. The remaining acupoints were needled to a depth of 1.2 inches. When a deqi sensation was achieved for all acupoints, qi-guiding needling with the Xie (reducing) manipulation technique was applied to Weizhong, Tiaokou, and Yanglingquan to transmit the needling sensation upward and toward the hip or waist. The same technique was applied to Huantiao, Juliao, and Biguan, instead transmitting the needle sensation downward and toward the legs. Subsequently, qi-guiding needling with the Bu (tonification) manipulation technique was applied on Dachangshu to transmit the needle sensation toward the lumbosacral area. The same technique was used on Shenshu until a deqi sensation of soreness or swelling was perceived at the lumbar region. A needle retention time of 20 minutes was observed during which the needles were rotated, lifted, and thrusted every 5 minutes to facilitate the flow of qi. One qi-guiding acupuncture session was conducted every other day for a total of 10 treatments.
Electroacupuncture for the control group was administered with the same aforementioned protocol. Before needle retention, the needles were connected to an electroacupuncture device. The device was then set to a continuous wave at 4 Hz with a 2mA current. A 20 minute needle retention time was subsequently observed. One electroacupuncture session was conducted every other day for a total of 10 treatments. The clinical results the Wu et al. study demonstrate that both qi-guiding acupuncture and electroacupuncture, when combined with meridian-differentiated acupoint selection, are suitable and effective therapies for lumbar disc herniation patients. However, qi-guiding acupuncture produces slightly better treatment outcomes in terms of nerve conduction velocity improvements.
In a related study, Wang H.D. (Xinping Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine) finds acupuncture combined with moxibustion therapy effective for the treatment of lumbodorsal myofascial pain syndrome. The study also finds that a silver needle protocol produces preferable treatment outcomes to conventional acupuncture. Lumbodorsal myofascial pain syndrome causes chronic lumbago and commonly occurs in young adults. Intensive acupuncture combined with moxibustion using silver needles was famously used by Professor Xuan Zhe Ren, a renowned Chinese orthopedist.
Acupoints were selected based on the degree of soft tissue damage, area of muscular tissue involved, and size of tendon contracture. In this approach, acupoints are 2 cm apart from each other and are mainly located on the lumbosacral region. Results from Wang’s study demonstrate that lumbodorsal myofascial pain syndrome patients receiving intensive acupuncture combined with moxibustion using silver needles achieved a 90% total treatment effective rate. Conventional acupuncture with moxibustion achieved an 83.3% total treatment effective rate.
Wang’s study involved a total of 60 patients with lumbodorsal myofascial pain syndrome. They were divided into a treatment group and a control group, with 30 patients in each group. The treatment group underwent intensive acupuncture-moxibustion therapy with silver needles. The control group received conventional acupuncture-moxibustion.
Intensive acupuncture-moxibustion with silver needles was applied to the T12 – L4 Jiaji acupoints and the acupoints located at the midpoint between each Jiaji acupoint. In addition, acupoints located 2 cm lateral to the Jiaji acupoints were needled. Finally, moxibustion applied with one Zhuang of 3 cm moxa cigar. One session was conducted daily for a total of 7 days. For conventional acupuncture-moxibustion therapy, the following primary acupoints were selected:
Additional acupoints were selected based on individual symptoms. For lumbago with chill-dampness:
For lumbago due to exhaustion:
For lumbago with kidney deficiency:
A needle retention time of 30 minutes was observed. Subsequently, moxibustion was applied using either a 4 hole or 6 hole moxa box on the lumbar acupoints. One session was conducted daily for a total of 7 days. The treatment efficacy for each patient was evaluated and categorized into 1 of 3 tiers:
Recovery: Complete elimination of symptoms. Physical movement regained completely. No pain points.
Significantly effective: Elimination of symptoms. Physical movement regained. Discomfort reoccurs only under exhaustion or change in weather. No pain or numbness.
Effective: Symptoms relieved. Pain or numbness present.
Not effective: No improvement in symptoms.
The total treatment effective rate for each patient group was derived as the percentage of patients who achieved at least an effective tier of improvement. The intensive acupuncture-moxibustion with silver needles protocol outperformed conventional acupuncture. However, both approaches produced significant positive patient outcomes.
Both aforementioned studies indicate that acupuncture is effective for the alleviation of lower back pain. These studies highlight the differences in therapeutic effects between various forms of acupuncture. As a result, qi-guiding acupuncture and intensive acupuncture-moxibustion with silver needles are found clinically effective for the relief of lower back pain.
Wu YC, Sun YJ, Zhang JF, Li Y, Zhang YY & Wang CM. (2014). Clinical Study of Qi-guiding Acupuncture at Points Selected According to Meridian Differentiation for Treatment of Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation. Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 33(12).
Cheng XN. (1987). The study of Chinese acupuncture-moxibustion. Volume 1, Beijing: People's medical publishing house. 192-284.
Hu YG. (1995). Prolapse of lumbar intervertebral disc. Volume 2, Beijing: People's medical publishing house. 226-228.
Zhu WM, Wu YC, Zhang JF, et al. (2010). Tuina combined with acupoint injection in treating prolapse of lumbar intervertebral disc. Chinese Journal of Sports Medicine. 29(6): 708-709.
Wang HD. (2013). Clinical Observation on Intensive Acupuncture-moxibustion with Silver Needles for Lumbodorsal Myofascial Pain Syndrome. Shanghai J Acu-mox. 32(8).
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