IT SEEMED like a good idea until I saw the electrodes. Dr Luana Colloca’s white coat offered scant reassurance. “Do you mind receiving a series of electric shocks?” she asked.
I could hardly say no – after all, this was why I was here. Colloca’s colleague, Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy, had invited me to come and experience their placebo research first hand. Colloca strapped an electrode to my forearm and sat me in a reclining chair in front of a computer screen. “Try to relax,” she said.
First, we established my pain scale by determining the mildest current I could feel, and the maximum amount I could bear. Then Colloca told me that, before I got another shock, a red or a green light would appear on the computer screen.
A HAIR-THIN needle pricks the skin. What happens next depends on who you ask. A traditional Chinese practitioner will tell you that acupuncture manipulates the body’s vital energy, Qi (pronounced chee), balancing the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. When Yin and Yang are in harmony, Qi flows freely along pathways called meridians and you stay healthy, but when the Qi gets blocked you become ill. Inserting needles into points along a meridian unblocks Qi and restores the body’s healthy balance.
Western scientists explain it differently. They say inserting needles at acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release morphine-like substances that block pain signals. It may also trigger neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which influence such dynamic systems as circulation and the immune response.
Ever since acupuncture caught on in the West, we’ve been seeking to replace the Eastern mysticism with hard facts. But clinical trials so far have produced a disappointingly mixed bag of results that don’t seem to back up the anecdotal claims for the wonders of acupuncture. There might be a steadily building case for clinical relief of some types of pain and nausea. But the inconclusive studies still outweigh the positive ones. Continue reading Acupuncture: East meets West
This was the message from CSP fellow Dr Mick Thacker, director of the ‘Pain: Science and Society’ MSc course at King’s College London.
Giving a keynote lecture, Dr Thacker advised delegates to move away from purely mechanical-based therapies for back pain patients, and become more aware of the role of neuro-immnunology in relation to pain.
There is no definitive UK data on the incidence of the condition, but studies in other countries suggest 1-2% of people are affected, while the World Health Organisation says figures closer to 5% have been reported.
Doctors and nurses have known for many years that some people are more sensitive to pain than others. Now brain scans of people experiencing the same painful stimulus have provided the first proof that this is so. But the scans also suggest that how much something hurts really is “all in the mind”.
“We saw a huge variation between responses to the same stimulus,” says project leader Bob Coghill of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The message is: trust what patients are telling you.” Continue reading Pain really is “All in the Mind”
BACK pain has a mysterious link with brain damage. Brain scans have shown that patients with chronic lower back pain have lost grey matter from two brain areas. Scientists are not yet sure whether this is the cause of back pain or the result, but the finding could lead to new drug treatments for backache that target the brain rather than the back or spine.
The discovery was made by Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University in Chicago, when he and his colleagues scanned the brains of 26 patients who had suffered lower back pain for at least a year. Some had damage to their sciatic nerve, which emerges at the base of the spine, while the others had no known injury. The team found that all the patients had lost grey matter in two brain regions known to be important in pain perception. Continue reading Back Pain linked to shrinking Brain
Physical pain is a common occurrence for many People; in fact, a national survey found that more than one-quarter of U.S. adults had recently experienced some sort of pain lasting more than a day. In addition to conventional treatments, such as over-the-counter and prescription medications, people may try Acupuncture in an effort to relieve pain. This fact sheet provides basic information about pain and acupuncture, summarizes scientific research on acupuncture for specific kinds of pain, and suggests sources for additional information.
People use acupuncture for various types of pain. Back pain is the most commonly reported use, followed by joint pain, neck pain, and headache.
Acupuncture is being studied for its efficacy in alleviating many kinds of pain. There are promising findings in some conditions, such as chronic low-back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee; but, for most other conditions, additional research is needed. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) sponsors a wide range of acupuncture research.
Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed correctly.
In traditional Chinese medicine theory, acupuncture regulates the flow of qi (vital energy) through the body. Research to test scientific theories about how acupuncture might work to relieve pain is under way. Continue reading Acupuncture studies by NCCAM
IF YOU have ever absent-mindedly rubbed your eyes or nose after chopping up chilli peppers, you’ll have some idea of the suffering of one group of scientists in the name of medical research. A team at the Institute of Neurology in London have been injecting chilli juice into each others’ foreheads. Lab technician Paul Hammond, who got roped into the experiment, says it felt like acid was burning into his skin. “It was one of the most excruciating pains you can imagine,” he recalls.
The researchers weren’t sadomasochists, as far as we know. Their actions were part of a much larger research effort that has been shedding light on migraine. For although in the past few decades we have learned a great deal about the condition, we still have no idea of its root cause. And while we have drugs that help some patients, some of the time, understanding the underlying defect is the best way to boost our chances of discovering a sure-fire cure.